I’ve rediscovered my reading ‘mojo’, after a few month’s of lockdown torpidity. earlier in this most strange of times. I’ve spent some of my time finessing my history of the London Musician’s Collective which, all being well, might well be out sometime in November. But for now, I’ve got Bob Woodward’s Rage and Left Out, the story of the Corbyn Labour debacle, to look forward to, with much trepidation. I’ve just finished, however, reading Eddie/Edwin Prevost’s latest book, his fourth, called An Uncommon Music for the Common Man: A Polemical Memoir, on his Copula imprint. It’s possibly his most readable book, but it’s a curate’s egg of both the sub-title’s constituent parts - some very interesting material about his personal story, and some tough-to-chew theoretical musings, which are worth reading through, for their thought-provoking nostrums. He is a true working class intellectual, a ‘common man’ with ‘uncommon’ ideas.
Eddie was bought up by a single mother in Bermondsey (now unrecognisable from it’s post-war iteration), and his account of post-war privations (Chapter Ten) make fascinating reading. Tellingly, it was apparently his French teacher who insisted that he add an acute accent to the ‘e’ in ‘Prevost’, in celebration of his French Huguenot forebears. His stammer, however, perhaps reflected a lack of confidence in this significant background pedigree.
His use of quasi-medical (or, at the very least, psychanalytical) terms like ‘regression’ and ‘progress’ in music feature heavily, earlier on, in his book-wide discussions around the “goal-oriented purposiveness” of the former (and the European canon in general, if I’ve understood him correctly) and the AMM-related sounds of the latter, which he holds forth throughout as a ‘democratic’ alternative to the ‘Equal Temperament’ hold that has held western music in thrall for the past few hundred years. Needless to say, ‘free improvisation’ is held as an example of creative good practice, exemplified by the workshop that he has held since 1999, as well as by the works of AMM and the ideas of Cornelius Cardew. He helpfully discusses the pitfalls of ‘genre specification’, particularly with regards to Free Jazz and Free Improvisation, the latter ”too white and European”? (on page 56), and which have often been confused/conflated. There is also more much-needed thinking around the troubled waters of ‘Class, Gender and Race’, which will hopefully be expanded in the future of this sort of literature.
Controversially, he wonders whether our younger British improvisers have “a genuinely experimental bent”, tied to the masts of ‘neo-liberal modern jazz’ and ‘regressive’ musical values generally (”the pantechnicon of re-invention”, page 65). At the same time, he offers that “my view of the aesthetics of improvisation has been shaped, but not confined, by my knowledge of, and admiration for, jazz” (page 47). Which certainly dovetails with my views around the background motivations of the so-called ‘First Generation’, which Prevost celebrates at various junctures in his narrative. But, he also queries whether (to paraphrase), “ the practice of experimentalism (has) ossified, fifty + years since 1966?” Ultimately, it seems that Prevost’s feeling is that “the exploratory process” is “ongoing”, and “capable of transcending any hegemonic consensus” (page 67), despite this ‘ossification’ process that is always threatening this creativity.
To be continued…