While he might well dispute it, for most listeners, Eddie Prévost's instrumental approach can be broadly divided into two areas: engagement with the musical philosophy developed by him and his colleagues in AMM and what might be described as a European free-jazz aesthetic. The latter was first heard on record during the period following the initial AMM break-up in the early 70s when Prévost and saxophonist Lou Gare formed AMM II and has surfaced periodically when he interacts with numerous members of the Euro (and US and elsewhere) free-jazz community. When in that "mode", for this listener, there's pretty much no drummer at his level. His ability to incorporate lessons from, among others, Max Roach and Ed Blackwell, into entirely new forms is astounding and his fluidity and imagination unmatched. A prime example of this is his solo feature on 'Blackheath Breakdown' from the 2008 recording on Matchless with Alexander von Schlippenbach, an amazing 20-minute journey that finds him firmly in a jazz tradition, yet utilizing some AMM-inspired approaches (such as sticking with one attack for 4-5 minutes) to generate wave upon wave of inspired playing. One could say John Butcher straddles a similar divide, if one not defined so starkly, ranging from more atmospheric, non-idiomatic approaches to ones more firmly grounded in the free jazz tradition as, for example, his collaborations with John Edwards and Mark Sanders.
As for the recording at hand, it's solidly in that free jazz framework and, as such, one of the very finest things in that vein I've heard in many years. Both musicians are at the absolute pinnacle of their game, all the more impressive in Prévost's case as he's been battling physical afflictions with regard to both his hearing and eyesight in recent times. And for those listeners wary of his (to some, not to me) possibly obsessive use of the bowed cymbal, you may rest easy; there's not a single example to be found herein. There's a whole lot of cymbal work, to be sure, in addition to the drum kit, including something of a concentration on the sock cymbal. Indeed, one is reminded of Roach's habit of opening concerts with a piece for solo sock cymbal.
We have three lengthy, free-wheeling performances. Describing them in detail would be a fool's errand but they're full of wonderful elasticity, of push and pull, of innumerable variations in dynamics, densities, timbres, rhythms and flights of imagination. Butcher's tone, on both soprano and tenor, is so rich and burnished, his flow of ideas ceaselessly swirling, but leaving so many inviting openings. And Prévost just fills the space so fully, with such spontaneously created structure and colors as to leave the listener's jaws agape. As heard often before, there's something Roach-like in his inherent melodicism, some over-riding concern with pitch that elevates his music well beyond technical prowess, into the ineffable. He also conjures up Blackwell's bubbling tom-tom work in places like the middle of the second cut, 'Digging'.
That pull between echoes of familiarity and forthright plunging into the unknown is just one of the things that makes Unearthed so rewarding, drawing the observer back again and again. Essential listening. The disc also comes with extensive and excellent liner notes from David Grundy.
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