David Tohir 21-April-2001 overview

Of AMM, founding member Eddie Prévost has written,

"In 1965, AMM began a radically different kind of music-making. The prevalent notions of musical theory, practice, hierarchy and structure (thematic reference, jumping-off points--for example the 'head' arrangements from which improvisation lifted off--and even the relatively informal criteria of the then 'free jazz' movement) were replaced by the creation of, and engagement with, a soundworld in which there was not even a formal beginning and ending. And, from its first raucous explosions, it knew too that it was not only speaking in a new language but that it was talking about things not perceived in any musics the member-musicians had heard elsewhere."

While this may appear rather self-important, I think it is rather close to the truth. Drummer Prévost, along with saxophonist Lou Gare, guitarist Keith Rowe, and cellist/bassist Lawrence Sheaff, immediately began making music that was almost undefinable except as "improvisation". They were joined in 1966 by composer Cornelius Cardew, who was largely interested in finding an ensemble to perform his large scale graphic work "Treatise". They released the classic AMMMusic 1966. It is an exciting free-for-all of an album, that is brought into focus by the innate sense of structure possessed by the members. While perhaps any improvisation can be seen as "self-indulgent", this album never comes off as pretentious, but rather the sense of fun and adventure is all too evident, a trait that AMM has been able to keep alive.

Sheaff departed shortly after the album's release. Adding percussionist/composer Christopher Hobbs, AMM released their second album, The Crypt 12 June '68. A bit more frantic and a little less focused than their first, it is still a worthwhile album, though perhaps not essential.

AMM spent the next few years performing occasionally, until 1972 when Cardew and Rowe departed. Prévost and Gare continued as a duo, producing a couple of recordings, AMM at the Roundhouse and To Hear and Back Again. In 1976 Rowe rejoined and Gare left. Prévost and Rowe released what is probably the most widely heard AMM album, perhaps more because of its being on ECM than anything else, It Had Been an Ordinary Enough Day in Pueblo, Colorado. Rowe brought his playing up several notches on this recording, employing a much more inventive prepared guitar approach as well as a very good use of radio. One of the more accessible entry points into this group, it still has enough "meat" to engage even the most seasoned of improvisation fans.

Shortly after this album, pianist John Tilbury joined, this trio remaining intact to this day. They released several very good, although not particularly exceptional, albums in the 80s, the most interesting of these perhaps being 1984's Combine + Laminates + Treatise '84. Although "Treatise '84" wasn't present on the LP release, its inclusion on the CD reissue is significant as a tribute to Cardew who had been killed by a hit and run driver in 1981.

The 90s saw the trio really come into their own. Newfoundland is a profoundly beautiful album that I think would appeal to fans of ambient, providing they didn't need a "beat" since there is nary a one to be found here. 1996 saw the release of a very interesting CD called Laminal. It is a three-disc set with one disc from 1969, with Cardew, Hobbs, Gare, Prévost, and Rowe; and the other two discs with the later trio: one recorded in 1982, the other in 1994. While none of the recordings are the very best examples of either of these line-ups, the are very good and give great comparative insight into the evolution of AMM.

Prévost, Rowe, and Tilbury continue to tour and record to this day. They have developed a keen sense of each other's abilities and tendencies that allows them to always keep their improvisations fresh and interesting. I believe them to be the finest improvisation group in existence, remaining interesting and entertaining while avoiding the many pitfalls inherent in improv. Certainly not for everyone, but worth a try for anyone with a taste for free jazz or late 20th century classical.

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