Since we last left AMM there has been a number of transitions, transformations and reassessments. In a nutshell during a tour in Holland the group split into two duos made up of Keith Rowe and Cornelius Cardew and Eddie Prévost and Lou Gare. Cardew and Rowe went on to the Peoples Liberation Music and Prévost and Gare did a number of shows and a couple of albums as AMM. This would be AMM II. Steve Lake nicely sums this all up in his liner notes to For It had been an ordinary enough day in Pueblo Colorado:
AMM II, of which I have no bootlegs of (but see To Hear and Back Again and Live at the Roundhouse), was much more free jazz then AMMMusic though it occasionally drifts into that territory.Prévost continued further down this route with his own groups the Eddie Prévost Band and the Eddie Prévost trio formed in the mid 70s. During this time Rowe moved from the political sing-a-longs of the PLM to the rock fusion of Amalgam. The ideology that had fractured the group seemed to abate and in the late 70s moves were made to reunite the previous incarnation of Prévost, Gare, Rowe and Cardew. As Martin Davidson put it in his liner notes for To Hear and Back Again:
After this attempt (which if any recordings were made someone should leak them!) to reform the core group what was left was founding members Rowe and Prévost. Keith Rowe: “I’d looked into the chasm and seen what the alternative was; it gave me an even stronger belief in the AMM process.” (4) Their first public performance as a duo was in late April 1979 on Charles Fox’s Jazz In Britain show at the BBC. Shortly thereafter they would be asked to record a studio album in Germany which would become It had been an ordinary enough day in Pueblo Colorado and not too long after that John Tilbury was asked to join the group.
Radio Activity, performed at the BBC on April 23rd, 1979
The piece begins with rumbling guitar and scraped metal in an approximation of early AMM. This is probably the prepared guitar with its motor as it grumbles and grinds its way around the guitar mostly likely hindered by Rowes hand. Prévost’s scraping reaches a frantic intensity and then abruptly stops long enough for him to switch to bowing cymbals or metal. The motorized guitar now running on its own laying in a low drone Rowe plays sustained single notes, bent via the whammy bar interspersed with the occasional plucked note. A good brooding quality develops here but it is shortly shattered by Prévost on the kit in an almost jazz rock style. Rowe’s guitar begins to turn increasingly rock like as well though avoiding much of the obvious structures and clichés. He alternates between two notes for a long period in an almost minimalism applied to rock riffs style which he finally breaks out with what is pretty much a guitar freak-out. From this he holds a single tone for as long as possible with clichés rubbing drumheads and throwing in the occasional fill.
From this point on the AMM retrospective seems to have been mostly complete. The droning guitar has mostly faded to the background providing an almost bass line. Rowes guitar is utilized in a squiggly fashion throwing out notes and riffs as Eddie manically works the skins and occasionally blows a police whistle. This perhaps could be a bit of the energy and anarchy of the Scratch Orchestra, the police whistle certainly being a touchstone. Though the density is different it certainly captures some of the energy of those performances. As Prévost continues with the fills Rowe turns from this to some effected playing that has an almost vocal quality – an attempt at capturing Gare’s tone perhaps? This builds into frantic scrabbling at the strings as Prévost works the kit, staying with the drums, toms and snares mostly with little cymbal work. After reaching a fever pitch this backs off and becomes quiet, with Rowe dropping in short sustained squeals and Prévost soft little fills, cymbal grabs and a bit of hi-hat work.
This soft bit with the most space so far doesn’t last too long as Rowe again begins frantic riffing, first at very low volume and then slowly building up. Prévost abandons his quieter cymbal work to return to the skins working the tom and kick drums mainly. Distorted guitar from Rowe now, a fractured melody sort of anthemic (PLM perhaps?) but it doesn’t last and devolves into crushed little motifs. Prévost briefly drops out as Rowe delivers an effected little solo, almost a bit Hendrix like with tones ringing in the space of delay. The drums come back full force as Rowe begins to move to higher energy little jabs of sound. A brief melodic bit almost sounding like the “Batman theme” before turning to super staccato playing as Prévost keeps time with the cymbals throwing in the occasional fill. Rowe’s playing becomes really rhythmic with this technique and Prévost mirrors that rhythm giving this an almost disco feel. At this point I’d say we went from the Free jazz of Prévost’s groups to the fusion of Amalgam where it concludes. The ending is quite nice with Rowe breaking down this rhythm into short and more clipped bits and Prévost faltering and then stopping leaving just the choked tones from the guitar for a few more iterations till it too abruptly ceases.
This piece is described by Charles Fox as “…a piece that can be interpreted as an account, sometimes ironic, always affectionate, of their musical journey during the past dozen years.”. These dozen years span the formation of AMM and its constant reassessments, performance of composed works and intense sonic experiments. The anarchic explorations of the Scratch Orchestra. The duo AMM of Gare and Prévost, the political songs of Rowe and Cardew, the free jazz of the Eddie Prévost Band/Trio and the rock fusion of Amalgam. As also noted by Fox this required Rowe to have two guitars one played by a motor to help capture the more continuous droning of early AMM. As would be a hallmark of this brief incarnation of AMM Rowe moves from this style into the more rock freak-out guitar solos of Amalgam. In a way there is a pretty direct line from AMM II to III with the free blowing Gare replaced by the guitar equivalent. Except when they are trying to be, it doesn’t have much of an AMM feel which possibly explains why this incarnation didn’t last.
It is worth noting that Radio Activity, described here as an improvisation, which seems to have an internal direction of trying to capture their history of performance also is the first track on It had been an ordinary enough day in Pueblo Colorado. Rowe’s motor driven second guitar, Prévost’s scrapped metal and the titular radio capture begin this piece giving it the same feel and structure of the above radio bootleg. In the same way it moves from this pseudo early AMM sound toward more free jazzy areas. So it seems that this became a piece of sorts for this duo, improvised for sure but with a loose structure.
1) AMM II – To Hear and Back Again liner notes by Martin Davidson 1993 (Matchless Recordings)
2) AMM II – Live at the Roundhouse liner notes by Eddie Prevost and Eric Lanzilotta 2003 (Anomolous Records)
3) AMM III – It had been an ordinary enough day in Pueblo Colorado liner notes by Steve Lake 1979 (ECM/JAPO)
4) Meta Machine Music, Rob Young, The Wire Issue #132 (February 1995)
5) Edwin Prévost, No Sound is Innocent, Copula, 1995
6) The AMM page at the European Free Improvisation Home