Eddie Prévost – Photo by Vanita & Joe Monk  www.monastery.nl

Free improvisation/Book launch – Eddie Prévost at Café Oto, Dalston

The free improvisation group AMM have, remarkably, been active since 1965, and founder-member Eddie Prévost has been a constant presence. Cornelius Cardew was a long-standing member, and occasional collaborators include Christian Wolff and Evan Parker. Ornette Coleman was apparently asked to leave.

The group may be exactly twice my age, but, as one would hope from free improvisers, they still perform with freshness and huge imagination. Their performance in the fashionable Café Oto in Dalston, London was a testament to the sustainability of improvisation as a musical way of life.

Eddie Prévost – Photo by Vanita & Joe Monk www.monastery.nl

There were two improvisations on Sunday night. The first was by AMM and featured Prévost on percussion, John Tilbury on piano, Seymour Wright on alto saxophone and Jennifer Allum on violin. The second was by members of Prévost’s improvisation workshop, which he has run since 1999: the performers were Hutch Demouilpied on trumpet, Sebastian Lexer on piano with electronics, Tom Soloveitzik on tenor saxophone and Grundik Kaysansky on electronics.

Both performances demonstrated a highly cultivated inventiveness in terms of sound production, using extended techniques such as bowing cymbals and piano strings, and saxophone key-tapping. Jennifer Allum used a swift, light, circular bowing action in the first piece to produce wispy and mysterious tones. Grundik Kaysansky’s contribution was the most theatrical electronics performance I can recall seeing.

The concert was at its most remarkable, however, when the sounds merged together – when it became difficult to tell whether it was a high saxophone note being played or a violin harmonic, or a product of one of Prévost’s experiments on percussion. It was at such moments – more common in the first performance than the second – that the mutual understanding between the players was most apparent. They all made unique contributions towards the overall texture, but this texture was somehow unified and consistent.

The First Concert – Eddie Prévost

Though there was much to applaud in the workshop group’s improvisation, the first performance had stolen the show. The players around Prévost may have changed, but AMM’s aesthetic has clearly nonetheless been distilling for the past 46 years. The group’s calm sense of structure and uncanny patience made for a beautiful, striking performance.

It is, of course, inevitable for an improvisation group that each performance will be unique. But the sound of an old idea made fresh was still impressive. The evening also functioned as a book launch, for Prévost’s The First Concert: An Adaptive Appraisal of a Meta Music: his take on the age-old question of (as he put it on Sunday) ‘Why we make music’. Whether his book can account for this as eloquently as his group’s performance is perhaps another matter.

Paul Kilbey writes on music and culture for publications including Culture Wars, Huffington Post and Bachtrack. Follow him on Twitter @paulkilbey.