Click here to [close]

Sunday, December 24, 2023

A Bright Nowhere - Complete Series (Matchless, 2023)

By Stuart Broomer

“Making a Journey to a Bright Nowhere” was a series of four weekly concerts at Café Oto in July 2022 to mark Eddie Prévost’s 80th birthday. Each performance marked a different dimension of his musical practice, which still ranges from a music that has clear roots in free jazz to the improvisations of AMM—subtle extended pieces that emphasize elements of duration, sound and a kind of meditative reflection on music and consciousness itself. Each of the four improvising groups is a distinct structure, a living tissue that reflects the collective aims of a group’s specific members within subtly different methodologies. The nature of the performances and the profound sense of interaction and partnership within each group might be inferred from one element: each of the four different groups had missing members: each of them is listed with his or her instrument in the respective personnel list with an asterisk linked to the comment “unavoidably prevented from playing”. That’s the mark of a genuine musical community.

The four CDs are available collectively or singly. There’s also a 100-minute film, Stewart Morgan Hajdukiewicz’s A Bright Nowhere: Journeying into Improvisation , documenting the concert series and including interview footage. A brief preview is available on YouTube. 

Volume One: A Company of Others (Matchless, 2023)

Volume One is subtitled “Meetings with remarkable saxophonists”, a format that Prévost has used in the past. It belongs, in this case, largely to the “free jazz” side of Prévost’s music, complete with something resembling a rhythm section. Those included are Jason Yarde and Seymour Wright on alto saxophones; Harrison Smith, Susan Lynch and Tom Chant on tenors; Alan Wilkinson on baritone; with tenor players Rachel Musson and Nathaniel Catchpole absent. The masterful “rhythm section” includes pianist Veryan Weston, bassist Marcio Mattos, guitarist N.O. Moore and Prévost on a conventional drum kit. “First Set” is a single piece with the full complement of saxophones and rhythm stretching over 32 minutes, almost half the CD ‘s length. It is one of those largely indescribable saxophone jams played with great energy and, one has to assume, significant volume, the kind of thing that comes with such an ensemble of talented musicians in the absence of a “score”. Traditional blow-outs (Mid-60s and much later) can come to mind, but there are voices here with more recently developed sound stores and approaches.

The second half is a collection of shorter pieces (including a brief “Happy Birthday”). “Second” and “Third Pieces” match three of the saxophonists, playing initially without the rhythm section. “Second Piece” has Lynch, Smith and Yarde combining in both contrapuntal and near-unison patterns; “Third Piece” has Chant, Wright and Wilkinson compiling the most astonishing collection of saxophonic squeals, grunts and other sonic abrasions I’ve heard, and delightfully so. “Fifth Piece” restores the full complement of saxophones for an improvisation that assumes ballad/ lament/ dirge dimensions, providing a kind of warm respite from the group’s other explorations.

Volume Two: The Art of Noticing (Matchless, 2023)

The Art of Noticing belongs to the larger “improvised music” side of Prévost’s activities, with saxophonist John Butcher, pianist Marjolaine Charbin, cellist Ute Kanngiesser, violinist Jennifer Allum (unavoidably absent) and Prévost switching to his role as percussionist, with bass drum laid flat to act as table and amplifier for various articles (among them a toothbrush) as well as drum, with cymbals bowed and scraped to provide long tones and other assorted instruments. The music is a miracle of subtlety, with extended techniques so diligently applied that it as if the instruments are passing in and out of themselves as well as the ensemble. A sudden ratcheting sound in the collective mystery might come from any of the instruments; the same too, for a high, whistling tone or an indistinct message in Morse code. In the few seconds it might take to assign a sound, the music has moved on, whether to a fresh puzzle or a moment of repose. It requires an engaged acceptance to avoid missing the rich variety of sonic interactions alive here even amidst the quiet moments. There are two long pieces here, each with a certain air of mystery. Shifts arise organically, whether suddenly or gradually, all within an overarching continuum, a kind of collective repose that somehow admits of surprise without disturbance.

Volume Three: Widdershins (Matchless, 2023)

Widdershins celebrates the on-going improvisation workshops that Prévost has been leading since 1999, intensive interactions in close listening and empathy. There are 15 musicians performing here: singers (Iris Ederer and Emmanuelle Waeckerlé; guitarists (Ross Lambert and James O'Sullivan); reeds (saxophonist Mark Browne and clarinetist Chris Hill); brass (trumpeters Jamie Coleman, Gerry Gold and Mirei Yazawa, and trombonist Ed Lucas); strings (cellist Keisuke Matsui and bassist Tom Wheatley); electronics (Daniel Kordik) and theremin (Tom Mills). The two absent musicians might be the most familiar names: Prévost himself and N.O. Moore. The ensembles and pieces are too diverse to describe in detail: the two longest tracks are the first, “Widdershins One” with 7 musicians and running 17 minutes; and track four, “Widdershins Two” with the other 8 musicians, running close to 20. The other pieces are two different trios, three different quartets and a brief concluding sextet. I’ll confess to being otherwise unfamiliar with several of the musicians, but the standards of response, invention and discretion are extraordinarily high, testament to Prévost’s enduring contribution to the music and the intense commitment of the workshop membership (Chord, by Prévost, Lambert, Moore and O’Sullivan [Shriker], recorded a month before, may be both the most original and achieved recording of the year). 

Volume Four: Last Calls (Matchless, 2023)

Last Calls is the final performance of AMM, one of the earliest and certainly longest running of improvising ensembles, a collective work that has been a kind of laboratory for concentrated creativity since the mid-1960s. This last performance is work so stripped of detail and so rich in meaning that one is reluctant to burden it with description or interpretation. In one sense it feels like an industrial soundscape, distinguished by the metallic roars of Prévost’s bowed cymbals. Keith Rowe, suffering for some time with Parkinson’s Disease, can no longer play guitar. Instead, he plays tapes and samples, whether his own guitar, the piano of the missing John Tilbury (unable to travel due to health issues), and dense, sustained chords from the weighty side of the European symphonic vocabulary. Despite the reduced and solemn activity, it doesn’t quite feel like Waiting for Godot: it feels like Godot is already there. Though the meaning of his presence is unknown, its weight is undeniable. A profound refutation of the trivial, I suspect the work’s immanence may somehow colour the work of many improvisers who hear it. The duo performance is followed by a tape entitled Postscript sent by the absent Tilbury could not travel to be there so he sent a tape, entitled “Postscript” here, a 13-minute solo home recording, as spacious, resonant and luminous as anything from Tilbury’s extensive recordings of Morton Feldman.


Lee said...

Have not been able to get my hands on this one yet, but I am extremely looking forwards to hearing it all (and watching the full-length documentary). Your review definitely convinces me this is the must-own document I expected it to be.

Anonymous said...

I attended all four gigs and received my order for the discs a couple of weeks ago. The Cafe OTO in house recordings have been edited with great care and, as a result of the fairly close miking, are largely freed of the extraneous sounds coming from nearby music venues. The CDs thus offer a rather different, and entirely welcome, perspective from that encountered at Cafe OTO on the nights they were recorded. At least one intended performer was missing from each gig, with Eddie himself absent from the third, due to his catching COVID-19. Fortunately he recovered sufficiently to be there for the final AMM gig.All four CDs are to be highly recommended.

Oh, and to describe the contribution from John Tilbury as a "home recording" seems a little misleading. Certainly it was performed at his home, using his early 20th Century Steinway, and other sound sources, but it was professionally recorded by Sebastian Lexer.