In the spring of 2004, due to personal and philosophical disagreements, Keith Rowe suspended his involvement with AMM, an association that went back to his role as founding member in 1965 (albeit with an almost decade-long disenfranchisement through the '70s). The remaining members, percussionist Eddie Prevost and pianist John Tilbury, elected to continue on as AMM. Oddly, the liner notes to Norwich by Simon Waters fail to mention Rowe's name or the events surrounding his departure, a striking omission given the group's 25-year history in its incarnation as a trio. Prevost and Tilbury had actually recorded a duo session the previous year, Discrete Moments, a more hit-and-miss affair with little of the "feel" of an AMM session. Here, it seems as though the duo was into more of an AMM frame of mind, and the result is a lovely recording. If it doesn't reach the aesthetic heights of the finest of AMM work and if Rowe's presence is sorely missed (which it might be if one chooses to think of it in such a way -- arguably not the proper listening approach to take), it remains a fine offering from two masters.
The 54-minute uninterrupted set is structured very much like what admirers of the group have come to expect: it emerges from the existing sound-space in an unobtrusive manner, tinges the environment in various ways, and departs back into the ether. At the beginning, Prevost appears to be plucking at some sort of stretched string (the innocent listener may even suspect the presence of an acoustic bass!) while Tilbury operates initially from inside the piano, the stringboard of which has been prepared with sundry objects, before moving to some hazy ruminations at the keyboard. Interestingly, at this point it sounds as though Prevost is employing some sort of mechanical device, whirring and striking some resonant strings, perhaps as a little homage after the fact to Rowe. Tilbury, in duo format, becomes a somewhat more active participant than he often was in the trio, forcing the action a bit more than floating atop it, bursting into abrupt Taylorisms here and there in addition to his more delicate arpeggiating. Prevost, for his part, does a masterful job of sinking into the background, coloring the proceedings with precisely the right shadings and accents, staying almost entirely off of the drum set as such, concentrating far more on gongs, bowed cymbals, metal and wooden objects, and other esoterica.
Despite the occasional violent outburst, the prevailing mood is subtle and mysterious, Prevost sometimes going entirely sub-aqueous with cetacean moans of uncertain parentage bouncing off Tilbury's impossibly soft, ultra-low key depressions. Delights abound, and picking out individual moments is something of a fool's errand, but special mention should be made of the gorgeous sequence of notes Tilbury develops during the closing ten minutes of the performance. Perfectly placed and chosen, hovering in the air, it's some of Tilbury's most beautiful improvising on record. While experienced AMM listeners may well feel that something's lacking, Norwich, heard on its own merits, is a very fine recording and a strong addition to an already amazing catalog of work.