Supeersession album coverThe history of AMM in the period between the duo of Keith Rowe and Eddie Prévost and trio of Keith Rowe, John Tilbury, Eddie Prévost is an interesting and little understood period. One that I think I’m not going to be able to shed much light upon beyond supposition. AMM fragmented into the duos of Rowe/Cardew and Prévost/Gare over ideological differences in the early 70s.  Rowe and Cardew went on to their revolutionary songs while Gare and Prévost became a free jazz duo under the AMM name. That much is fairly clear. Also it is pretty well know that there was an attempt to revive the Rowe/Cardew/Prévost/Gare quartet in the late 70s. Gare of course made his oft quoted statement about not being able to return to AMMMusic after the freedom of the duo. Cardew was then tragically killed (murdered?) bringing to a close that era of AMM.

What happened next was the duo of Keith Rowe and Eddie Prévost of which we discussed in the previous post. However it seems that pretty much all during that period there was various attempts to put together a larger group. Rowe has always stated that for him AMM was meant to be a larger group:

“If it’s two elements, it’s not AMM. There have been versions of AMM with only two people, but I don’t consider that as AMM. […] About that time we did do duo gigs, yes. But we always thought there should be three elements. In AMM philosophy three is four: the three players plus the group itself makes four. It’s like the Chinese story of the man drinking a glass of wine in moonlight whose shadow becomes the third member of the company. AMM’s a quartet with an invisible member. ” -Keith Rowe(1)

In the late 70s/early 80s there seemed to be be an almost “auditioning” process of various people for AMM, there is a known recording out there that I have yet to be able to find of  Keith Rowe/Evan Parker/Eddie Prévost in 1979 and then there is this quartet of Evan Parker/Keith Rowe/Barry Guy/Eddie Prévost in 1980. It seems they especially flirted with Evan Parker as he was involved in a number of shows from the aforementioned 1979 one up to at least late 1984.  This group, the quartet of Rowe, Parker, Prévost and Guy would release an album recorded in London in September 1984 under the name of Supersession.

Keith Rowe/Eddie Prévost/Barry Guy/Evan Parker
1980, BBC Studio, London

Begins very tentative, insect music territory. Scrabbly guitar sounds, short bass arpeggios, mild bleats and skronks from the sax and fits and starts of drumming. This picks up pretty fast and within a couple of minutes the sound is fairly continuous even if each individual contribution is not.  He seems to use this fast, staccato strumming to create a kind of blur of popping sounds. A real different sound for this type of free improv and interesting how he kind of sticks with it throughout.  He varies this with shorter, spacious, quieter segments but with the same high thin tone.  In this piece after things build up to pretty dense playing from the bass and drums as Rowe does the fast scrabbling sound he then begins this more spacious playing and suddenly everyone backs off. Good long section without Parkers horn and when he brings it in it is with these short constipated releases of air. Prévost picks up the drumming heading into a quite free jazz vibe as if he was in a duo with late 60s Coltrane. Rowe pauses for a bit at this point and Parker heads toward pretty much continuous playing in familiar Parker territory.  Guy’s bass work is quite straight ahead most of the time at at this dense interval he is pretty much just in the pocket. Keith comes back in with serious vamping adding in a real dense rather fuzzed guitar wash. At this point 8 minutes or so into this piece this could be any free 70s improv ensemble.

They back down from this energy (even the ebb and flow of this is akin to the free jazz roller coaster style) with some rather nice gritty bowing from Guy. Parker plays very short, tonal phrases along with this for a bit of a bass and sax duo. A bit of metallic guitar from Rowe as if stroking muted strings above the pickup. This again inspires an increase in energy and his strumming becomes faster and faster to which Parker responds in kind. It breaks down pretty fast and becomes a bit more open but then Prévost begins wailing on the skins in an all out drum freakout. This of course inspires those melodic runs from Parker, bass fills from Guy and Rowe adds in a a heavily fuzzed almost hard rock guitar. Rowe is almost always at a lower volume then the others and while his playing is fairly straight it is sometimes at odds with the other three. In many ways this is kind of a collision of rock and free improv with elements of both used as materials for this improv.

Again things are quickly brought to a much lower level of energy with Prévost still working the skins, but gently and Rowe down to his slower scrabble instead of the frantic one and Parker laying out.  But just as quickly the energy is built right back up, with dense bass work and what sounds like soprano sax from Parker, played a frantic speed.  To which Rowe responds with a rocking guitar line. It is this constant high to low to high energy transitions that is the most EFI like in this, with the sounds often coming from the rock work. This time when the level is brought down, Guy returns to bowing his bass and Rowe goes on a total analog delay freakout. Layers of thin guitar work ping-pong across the stereo field as he works his delay and Parker plays short little squeals on the (probably) soprano sax. Staccato drumming on the floor tom from Prévost as Rowe moves into odd little cascades of sounds almost like bottles being rolled upon each other. Things open up pretty well even as Guy lays in a guttural drone via his bow. Rowe and Parker stick with fragmented squeals and Prévost lays out. Mirroring the beginning of the piece things get a bit insect music like in the last minutes and slowly coalesce into a denser structure but rather surprisingly concluding before really achieving liftoff.

The playing of Rowe and Prévost on this track is very much in the vein of the playing on RadioActivity and the AMM III album. The use of rock textures from Rowe and free jazz drumming from Prévost run all through this.  While Parker and Guy at times slip sounds in that wouldn’t be out of place in an AMM date from the late 60s for the most part they don’t stray from what they would be doing in their trio with Lytton. Its interesting that the trio of Rowe, Prévost and Guy could be almost a rock power trio (like Cream say), while the trio of Prévost, Parker and Guy sound could just be Prévost filling in for Lytton the Evan Parker trio.  They oscillate between these two poles which perhaps aren’t all that far apart.

“The group that AMM most closely resembles, though they sound utterly unalike and their musics seem to take shape on different principles, is the trio of Evan Parker, Barry Guy, and Paul Lytton, whose playing relationship is almost as long as AMM’s and who share the same devotion to collective improvisation. When AMM was a tenor/drums duo in the 70s, Gare and Prévost frequently co-promoted concerts with the duo of Parker and Lytton, and there’s an extraordinary quartet recording from 1984, called Supersession (Matchless MRCD17), with a quartet of Guy, Parker, Prévost and Rowe.” -Stuart Broomer(3)

The above quote from Broomer I think gives us the clue as to just what this recording is. AMM and the Evan Parker trio played at various shows together, and knowing how those went probably had to do some combined playing together. It was from an unknown date in 1980 at the BBC at a
time when AMM III was playing shows by itself and with various people.  And supposedly at this point Tilbury had already been asked to join the group, though the first official trio AMM set was not until 1982. If AMM III and the Evan Parker Trio were doing intermingled shows at this time perhaps when the opportunity to do a BBC date came up it was suggested that they all play. Perhaps it was the Evan Parker trio that was asked to do the the BBC session and Lytton was unavailable that day so Parker asked Rowe and Prévost to play with them. Impossible to say without of course asking one of the principles. So I think this best way to think of this would be as a one off with the AMM duo, Parker and Guy. In 1984 when they played the show that was  released as Supersession they had already been performing as the trio AMM for several years and had released the studio album Generative Themes. So when releasing the album you could see the need to create a new identity for the group.

It is worth noting that on the actual Supersession disc the rock elements are nowhere near as dominant. Overall it feels more AMM like, especially what you hear on Generative Themes. This of course makes sense as the trio AMM had been playing enough for them to have settled more into playing AMMMusic. At the time of this recording, Rowe and Prévost had primarily been playing in rock and free improv styles for quite a few years. It is not surprising that those influences would filter into AMM III and just be reinforced when added straight up free improv players like Parker and Guy. So really this recording is another fleeting moment in time another short lived era in the history of AMM.

References

1) Keith Rowe interview by Dan Warburton at Paris Transatlantic
2)
Supersession liner notes by Eddie Prévost,1988 (Matchless Recordings)
3)  Notes on AMM: Entering and Leaving History Stuart Broomer, CODA Magazine no. 290. 2000
4) Meta Machine Music, Rob Young, The Wire #132 (February 1995)
5) Edwin Prévost, No Sound is Innocent, Copula, 1995