Christian Wolff has a long history in relation to AMM and its members, having been a temporary member in 1968 (no recordings exist documenting this grouping, very unfortunately) and having performed with each member on multiple occasions since then. Rowe has likely been his most frequent collaborator, both in duo and, with Takehisa Kosugi, as a trio providing music for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. There is also, arguably, a closer musical affinity with Rowe and Tilbury (the latter via Feldman and Cage) than with Prévost. On the other hand, Wolff as an improviser is also a rarely documented event, even if some of his compositions, such as 'Edges', originally written for AMM, verge on improvisation in many ways.
This is all to say that the current pairing is an intriguing one. The two-disc set includes live performances in London (in the yard behind Lambeth Palace) and at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, in 2015 and 2016 respectively. In the essay by Prévost in the accompanying booklet, he writes, "Loosely speaking, each musician acts autonomously. Yet at the same time makes a conscious attempt to accommodate the other. In this case, it seems to me that Christian uses and transforms tonal and what might be described as traditional musical material. Whilst I am an unrepentant noise-maker." This is pretty accurate as it happens and provides much of the very enjoyable tension to be found here.
Wolff, largely on piano and melodica, traces the kind of quasi-melodies he's been composing for many years now, sequences that almost sound like tunes, that knit patterns the ear wants to reconcile into recognizability but can never quite do so. The not-quite-contiguous horizontal lines in the cover image by Myah Chun Grierson aren't a bad analogy. Listeners and I know there are more than a few who object to what they consider Prévost's "excessive" use of bowed cymbals and other metals might have something of a problem with this session. As a rule, I don't mind it very much but, yes, there are times when I found myself wishing he'd use other alternatives. Then again, in his capacity as "noise-maker', the bowing certainly does the trick and can, as occurs some 15 minutes into the Dartmouth disc, contribute strongly to some extremely intense and moving sounds. Other times, as on the beginning of the second part of Disc One, where deep, rich piano collides with thickly battered toms or bass drum, are thrilling, causing one, perhaps, to wish for more in this line. Despite the essay, there's also clearly a decent amount of listening to one another occurring here and, indeed, some of the more exciting moments arise when a seemingly disparate section suddenly coalesces into a tightly woven sonic fabric, if only for a brief time before separating out once again.
There's not a great overall difference between the two sets though each contains a wealth of differing details. The improvisations are always on a high level — little casting about, much incisive work, as might be expected from such participants. If they're not communicating directly with each other, a dialogue still ensues, and a rich one. The elements — keyboard and percussion — aren't new, but the conversation, while drenched in the history of contemporary composition and improvisation, is entirely fresh and engaging.
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