To borrow a metaphor from an old fable, British percussionist Eddie Prevost is an ant. Though some improvising musicians thrive for a season and disappear, like the proverbial grasshopper, Prevost has dug in for the long haul–since 1965, when he founded AMM with guitarist Keith Rowe and saxophonist Lou Gare, he’s worked tirelessly in the trenches, serving as both a self-effacing booster of improv and a personification of its grassroots politics. His 1995 book, No Sound Is Innocent (Copula), articulated the Marxist-influenced theory of improvisation that AMM puts into practice–individual trial and error carried out in a selfless, collective mode of interaction, or what Prevost calls “dialogical heurism”–and his label, Matchless Recordings, is a source not only for old and new AMM releases but also for music by young and little-known improvisers. Of course, it helps that AMM is one of the most extraordinary improvising ensembles on the planet–its 1996 Chicago performance ranks among my five favorite concerts of the past decade. The music has a sound unlike any other: often static or very gradual in development, it separates into layers like blood in a centrifuge, with shimmering bowed cymbals floating over fluttering tabletop guitar (a technique Rowe innovated, in response to John Cage’s prepared pianos). A glorious three-CD set called Laminal collects performances from 1969, ’82, and ’94, providing an overview of AMM’s career; the lineup has morphed a bit–composers Cornelius Cardew and Christian Wolff, among others, worked with the group in the 60s, and in the mid-70s Gare dropped out–but for some 20 years AMM’s core has been the trio of Prevost, Rowe, and pianist John Tilbury, who came aboard in the early 80s. Possessed of one of the best ears in contemporary music, Tilbury transforms the ensemble’s sound like an alchemist, somehow adding pitched material to the textural scrapescape without ending up in the foreground. Sunday, April 15, 8 PM, International House, University of Chicago, 1414 E. 59th. Prevost will be joined by reedist Ken Vandermark and percussionist Michael Zerang for a more jazz-oriented set on Friday, April 13, at 10 PM, and Rowe will perform solo on Saturday, April 14, also at 10 PM; these two shows are at 6Odum, 2116 W. Chicago. 312-666-4412.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Vas Vasovic.