that mysterious forest below London Bridge
Tom Chant, Ross Lambert, Sebastian Lexer & Matt Milton;
Jamie Coleman, Mark Wastell & Seymour Wright;
AMM (Eddie Prevost, John Tilbury)
MRCD70, matchless recordings, 2007

1. review: The Wire

That Mysterious Forest Below London Bridge

The "09/11/06" that appears in the track titles refers, in accordance with British convention, to 9 November, not 11 September, in case you're tempted to listen to these three austere slabs of English lmprov as a fifth anniversary commemoration of what Stockhausen rather unwisely referred to as "Lucifer's greatest work of art". That said, there is something monumental and scary about the central track, a trio consisting of trumpeter Jamie Coleman, alto saxophonist Seymour Wright and Mark Wastell, putting his tam tam aside in favour of an Indian harmonium. What's striking about the piece is its refusal to play Improv's standard rise and fall game. Wright's bloodcurdling yelps and vicious overblowing are all the more effective given Coleman's reluctance and Wastell's inability (in terms of the instrument, one supposesl to compete. It's as if Classic Guide To Strategy-era John Zorn had ended up on a David Grubbs album and tried to blast his way out, to no avail.

This multi-player session was recorded live at the Shunt Lounge, near London Bridge; the album title is a quotation from John Ruskin, which brings another to mind: "All great and beautiful work has come of first gazing without shrinking into the darkness." The two bookending tracks are less harrowing but no less effective. The opening quartet is a careful and patient examination of how tiny seeds of sound - clucks from saxophonist Tom Chant, plucks from violinist Matt Milton, twangs from guitarist Ross Lambert and clangs from pianist Sebastian Lexer - grow into strange and beautiful plants that occupy the same windowbox without blocking each other's light. It's delicate and subtle, especially Lexer's laptop work and his piano playing, whose feeling for space and touch recalls John Tilbury. It's only fitting, then, that Tilbury's impeccable phrasing and Eddie Prévost's exquisite bowed cymbal work should close proceedings in a 25 minute offering by the latest incarnation of AMM, "Every increased possession loads us with new weariness," wrote Ruskin. When it comes to this album, however, I respectfully submit he was wrong.

The Wire April 2008

2. review: allaboutjazz

Here's an opposite of the sampler album. Three groups, two of them relatively ad hoc and one of long-standing, perform three freely improvised pieces and the results are a byword for how diverse that approach to music-making can be.

The quartet of Tom Chant, Ross Lambert, Sebastian Lexer and Matt Milton produce music that's unassumingly lithe and seemingly intrinsically aware of the interface between acoustic, electro-acoustic and electronic idioms. The negation of instrumental identity is of such an order that Tom Chant's tenor and soprano saxophones emerge only very intermittently, as if a predetermined element of the music was the collective agreement upon reaching for previously uncharted vistas.

At first it seems as though Coleman, Wastell and Wright are in thrall to the previous grouping's approach, but then differences start to emerge, not the least of them being Seymour Wright's alto sax. His playing is purged to the point of emaciation and beyond, adrift on the sea of small but sustained tones that mark Wastell coaxes from his Indian harmonium. Jamie Coleman's trumpet has the effect of commenting on a dialog, the level of engagement between the three musicians suggesting something profoundly Beckettian in a fashion that's not without precedent in this area.

Now comprising pianist John Tilbury and percussionist Eddie Prevost, as such we are now in the second period of AMM's existence as a duo and it's a measure of how rarefied AMM music has become that the piece here could hardly have come from any other quarter. Tilbury's approach to the piano could be regarded as the antithesis of all that's florid or showy, but that in no way conveys its sheer reductionism; every note is made to resound through means other than the rhetorical, whilst Prevost seems, at times, almost engaged with silence in a kind of dialog-within-a-dialog. The kind of refinement this implies is anything but common and the music, at times, seems to merge with the background in a manner profoundly different from anything that the term ambient might imply.

Track listing: Chant_Lambert_Lever_Milton_09/11/06; Coleman_Wastell_Wright_09/11/06; AMM_09/11/06.

Personnel: Tom Chant: soprano and tenor saxes (1) Ross Lambert: guitar (1) Sebastian Lever: piano and laptop (1) Matt Milton: violin (1) Jamie Coleman: trumpet (2) Mark Wastell: Indian harmonium (2) Seymour Wright: alto sax (2) John Tilbury: piano (3) Eddie Prevost: percussion (3).

Style: Modern Jazz/Free Improvisation

allabout jazz

Published: April 22, 2008

3. review : Point of Departure

This CD presents three groups of free improvisers performing on the same night at the Shunt Lounge, an art bar located under London Bridge. It’s a fitting locale for the music heard here, which is both quintessentially English and virtually covert, both in the subtlety of its interactions and in its public presence. Each piece is titled by its performers and its date. The groups all fall within the AMM/Matchless aesthetic, the musicians being familiar from previous Matchless recordings, Eddie Prévost’s on-going improvisational practice and workshops and the Freedom of the City events. Whether the music employs discreet or continuous sound there’s a sense of spacious deliberation. If there’s a pattern to the sequence of groups, it’s reductive, beginning with a quartet, moving to a trio and concluding with a duo.

The first group is a quartet of Tom Chant on saxophones, Ross Lambert on guitar, Sebastian Kexer on piano and laptop, and Matt Milton on violin. Whatever the instrumentation might suggest, it’s initially very close to percussion music: a hammered piano string, a plosive blast on the reed, assorted knocks and electric scrapes from the guitar, an attenuated high-
pitched line from the violin. It moves along with continuous interest, its densities shifting, until it begins to build with a very gradual crescendo before subsiding again into a kind of mediated silence around the 16’ mark.

The second group is a trio of James Coleman on trumpet, Mark Wastell on Indian harmonium and Seymour Wright on alto saxophone, an odd mix of Wastell’s sometimes serene sustained sound and the vocalic yelps that Wright often favors here, though these, too, will merge in the sonic affinity of reeds. Extended techniques are used to the extent of disguising instrumental timbres even in this small acoustic ensemble (Wright can play alto for long stretches without putting it in his mouth). It’s sometimes hard to distinguish saxophone and trumpet.

The final track belongs to the current two-man version of AMM, percussionist Prévost and pianist John Tilbury. It’s not the first such version of the group – Prévost has participated in two-man versions of the pioneering improvisation ensemble with both Lou Gare and Keith Rowe – but it’s the most serene, working here from a series of scrape and cluster to passages so quiet that seem to embroider silence. Much of it is defined by Prévost’s scraped cymbals, an extended, piercing sound that seems to fluctuate between the sonorous and the abrasive by the millisecond. Tilbury articulates with a stunning grace, each note an act of exploration and commitment.

Stuart Broomer
Point of Departure