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Old 07-04-2009, 02:51 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Default AMM - Newfoundland

Artist: AMM
Album: Newfoundland
Year: 1993
Genre: Experimental
Style: Free improvisation
Rating: 9/10

Active since the mid-1960s, England's AMM have become an icon of the free improvisational movement. Newfoundland, a live album recored in 1992, has become one of their most acclaimed albums along with the 1967 debut, and is often cited as a good starting point for those wishing to familiarize themselves with the band's music. While this is not accessible fare by any means--until the last twenty-five minutes there is little in the way of melody on offer, but there is plenty of musical violence, and clocking in at over an hour with no subdivision into tracks, it requires a time investment to familiarize oneself with--it is often more spacious and minimalistic affair than some of the band's earlier work, and in that sense may be less alienating. But regardless of whether you're new to the band or not, it is, undoubtedly, a masterpiece.

Some may find the album's length unapproachable, but in fact it is actually a huge part of what makes this album great. You cannot digest this easily the way you would a song; instead, you must adjust your state-of-mind, so that you can continuously engage AMM's art for one hour and seventeen minutes of your life with no distraction. This realignment of the listener's thought processses is a part of that art.

The AMM recorded here is a trio, consisting of percussionist and founding-member Eddie Prevost, pianist John Tilbury, and guitarist Keith Rowe. The band at times reaches great intensity, but it is not designed to fill up the headspace with sound at all times, and for most of the performance there is a great deal of void between the instruments. Prevost reveals himself to be unafraid to unleash his battery in aggressive ways early on, but his bursts of energy are not uncontrolled spasms; they are controlled and at times even jazz-inflected, though AMM are not a jazz band. Towards the middle of the album he also brings in tuned instruments almost resembling a gamelan, complementing the piano perfectly. He is neither a beat-keeper nor an odd-time virtuoso, but a man who treats his instruments as part of the soundscape, the way Lustmord might treat a thunderstorm sample.

And speaking of Lustmord, Keith Rowe's guitar here is something that must be heard to be believed. At no time does it resemble any guitar you have heard; instead it sounds like something straight out of a dark ambient or industrial, a churning, mechanical sound generator that does wonders to transform AMM's stage into a living sonic environment. He is a master of the prepared guitar, and on here he also beats Godspeed You! Black Emperor at their own game years in advance by interjecting a disembodied voices into the music by tuning into the radio, most prominently late in the album amid rich, fluid piano chords.

John Tilbury's piano at least sounds like a piano, and although his playing is often sparse and atonal, recalling the work of George Crumb, it is still an easy object to latch onto in AMM's dark world. In the album's final twenty-five minutes he begins to introduce more familiar forms of beauty, with sparse, gorgeous chords and, eventually, a slow melody, gently bringing the listener back from their journey beyond their comfort zone. Or at least, so you think--never one to let you get comfortable, Eddie Prevost picks up the intensity severely a little over ten minutes before the end, and the album ends ambiguously.

This isn't a flawless album. One weakness I identify is that, at the turning point I mentioned in the previous paragraph, Tilbury responds with some rather weak fast jazzy playing; it would have been more interesting had he continued to play gently and allow a juxtaposition to emerge. These occasional dubious choices, though, do not prevent this album from achieving its goals. This is not noise, but music of a supreme level of artistry that, if you let it, will reside in your subconsious forever.
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