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Eddie Prevost: Out On The Free

By Published: December 11, 2007
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AAJ: Am I right in thinking that AMM has been a small group at every stage of its life ranging from duo to sextet or septet? If this is so, has that been intrinsic to the success of AMM's music? Would it have been the case that greater numbers of musicians might not have been able to sustain the rarefied level of communication that could be argued to be one of the group's hallmarks?

EP: I think that it is the experience of most improvisers; that large ensembles are very difficult vehicles in which to maintain freedom of thought and opportunity of expression for all those concerned. There have been many experiments which have sought to explore this situation, ranging from various kinds of conduction to even my own attempts at creating loose structures (i.e. Spirals and Silver Pyramid). Most of these attempts (including my own) have in my opinion failed because of the inherent difficulty of maintaining a musical (or any other kind of) relationship within a large ensemble. Direction—or some external authority—is thought to be needed to make any sense of such initiatives. And, in the short term this may be true. But if the essential nature of your work is to do with communication and making music appropriate to the moment, then following some instructions is not going to allow this to develop.

EddieAAJ: On a similar theme, at the time when AMM consisted of just yourself and Lou Gare back in the 1970s, there were very few precedents for tenor sax /drums duos—indeed only John Coltrane's duo with Rashied Ali as documented on Interstellar Space (Impulse!, 1967) springs to mind. Were you both conscious of this, or was the situation merely the product of expediency?

EP: I have certainly never owned Interstellar Space. I am not even sure I have ever heard it all the way through. My education is lacking. But by the time AMM had gained momentum, such concerns seemed without consequence. Lou and I simply made AMM music—but on drums and saxophone. There really is not much connection with the Coltrane/Ali music except that, in some superficial sense, both manifestations may at times seem to inhabit similar sonic territory.

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Looking Back

AAJ: This question is something of an exercise in nostalgia. According to producer Joe Boyd, in his book White Bicycles. Making Music In The 1960s (Serpent's Tail, 2006), you played the UFO club in London, England on January 27, 1967 on the same bill as Pink Floyd. Do you hanker after days such as those when the attitude towards musical experimentation, and indeed towards the far more rudimentary matter of billing, seemed as if it was a whole lot more flexible and inclusive?

EP: I suppose that in London during the mid 1960s no one knew what was possible. Or, what was impossible. Pink Floyd was just another band trying to make it. AMM was an improvising band making strange noises. There did not seem to be any problem about cohabiting on the same bill. The audience was as alternative as the music. Only later, when the market took a hold of rock music, did all this change. An early sign of this was when AMM played at London's Roundhouse on the same bill as The Cream and Geno Washington's Ram-Jam Band (among others). The promoter refused to pay AMM because he said we had only been tuning up. It took the persistence of our friend and sometime manager/helper Victor Schonfield to finally get the agreed fee out of them! Most things can be flexible and inclusive just as long as you're not involved in some competitive market place.

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Looking Forward

AAJ: Finally, and as an antidote to nostalgia, what are you working on and whom are you working with at the moment? Is it a matter of devoting yourself exclusively to free improvisation at this point in time?

EP: This particular autumn period is hectic for me. I am working on things all of which make demands of various attributes that I cherish in the world of improvised music.

I have been working with John Tilbury, my partner in AMM, at a festival in Lodi, Italy, where I also collaborated with twenty-two Italian improvising musicians.

Eddie Prevost

Later, AMM collaborated very successfully with three much younger musicians from Austria and Germany. Kai Fagaschinski , Klaus Filip and Burkhard Stagl at a festival in Berlin.

I flew to Canada for various concerts and workshop in Halifax, Toronto and Guelph in October, and in November I take up the drumming mantle and perform with saxophonist Alan Wilkinson in Finland.

And later this year I shall be performing with John Butcher in three concerts in Israel.

But the thread holding all these things together is the continuing workshop that I convene most weeks—for getting on ten years now (less than usual this autumn because of the schedule).. And there is the music arising from the workshop—among others, the ensemble 9! (which sometimes involves fourteen people) and the "total jazz experiments with saxophonist Seymour Wright and guitarist Ross Lambert. Not to mention my attempts to make fresh connections with musicians who have more of a conventional jazz orientation, like Mornington Lockett and Chris Biscoe. It seems to be a time to make up for time lost perhaps. Alongside this I am endeavoring to help John Tilbury realize his great work of biography—Cornelius Cardew A Life Unfinished, which I am publishing under our imprint, Copula.

Selected Discography

Eddie Prévost/Alan Wilkinson, So Are We, So Are We (Matchless, 2006)
Allan Wilkinson/Eddie Prévost/Joe Williamson, Along Came Joe (Matchless, 2006)
AMM, Norwich:. AMM at UEA (Matchless, 2005)
Lou Gare, No Strings Attached (Matchless, 2005)
Jim O'Rourke/Eddie Prévost , Third Straight Day Made Public (Complacency, 1993)
AMM, Generative Themes (Matchless, 1983)
AMM, To Hear And Back Again (Matchless, 1975)
AMM, At The Roundhouse (Anomalous Records, 1972)
AMM, Ammusic (ReR Megacorp, 1966)

Photo Credit
Courtesy of BBC Radio 3

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