Stanley Clarke & George Duke, Pat Benatar and AMM
29th January 1983
A one-off occasion featuring two of the giants of jazz-rock, this concert inevitably provoked a reaction as great as the reputation of the musicians involved. A packed and enthusiastic hall welcomed Stanley Clarke, rated one of the top two bassists in the world since his time in Return to Forever with Chick Corea, and George Duke, showman and keyboardist supreme and in the recent past a popular singer as well.
These long-time friends have played together before, notably in the Clarke-Duke Project, and Stanley's solo albums such as 'School Days' and the recent 'Let Me Know You' have not been able entirely to keep them apart. As they tuned up there was electricity in the air - literally in Clarke's case, since his custom-built active bass features tiny LEDs as fret markers all along the fingerboard. Not to be outdone, Duke's primary instrument is a glossy white Clavitar, slung around the neck with easy familiarity and interfaced with a Prophet 5.
The opening track heavily featured the Clavitar producing long sustained lead guitar sounds, with Duke's control over pitch bend being shown to the full. Rather than overusing vibrato modulation Duke prefers to insert excessively complex ornamentation to gain similar effects - it's certainly more impressive than turning a modulation control and had the audience breathless with appreciation.
Clarke's solo on the same track quickly shot up the fretboard, leaving the bass part to be taken by Denzel Miller on Minimoog. Clarke's control at the highest registers of the bass is unequalled, and the degree of expression he forces from the instrument is even more amazing when it's learned that he uses no effects other than a Roland Space Echo.
Eddie Martinez on guitar and Warren Peak on drums played precisely and powerfully, but were eclipsed by the headlining duo's showmanship. Duke rolled on his famous perspex Clavinet, equipped with what looks like a piece of bicycle but is in fact a large sprung pitch-bend lever, and strolled through a solo which had the audience cheering every two or three notes - predictably, since he stopped playing and pointed with glee at the instrument to give them a chance to do just that.
Very much a soloist's concert, the technique of producing a sudden silence and waiting for the applause was a little over-used. However, there was plenty of variation; Duke provided a scat-singing solo which imitated every drum in Warren Peak's Yamaha Kit and a few more besides, and then gave a thunderous build-up on Yamaha electric grand for one of his songs. His voice is rich and clear enough, but for real power Jeffrey Osbourne was introduced, whose driving vocals perfectly matched the funkier disco beat of his single 'On The Wings Of Love'.
During the songs Clarke showed himself capable of becoming part of a band as well, playing a gentle glissando up to each note to match Miller's fuzzy Oberheim strings and Duke's Prophet hook lines. Given a chance to solo however, he turned on a subtle but convincing display using voice box and echo that had the bass 'talking' fluently. This led, after an intentionally cliched blues duet between Clarke and Duke, into 'School Days', which featured Clarke's amazing flamenco chordal bass playing and neck-bending techniques, not to be recommended on a cheap copy.
As the volume rose Duke's piano sound tended to distort a little, but Clarke's 8 Electro-Voice cabinets performed well. A final jam session over a five-chord progression saw Duke lending his Clavitar to members of the audience while the encore 'Louie Louie' had half the audience dancing on the stage singing along, trying to touch Clarke's bass and generally letting go. During the course of Clarke's solo someone from the circle suggested (loudly) that he must be E.T. - from the performance that night it's certain he's got magic fingers.
21st January 1983
Pat Benatar is gaining an increasingly large following in this country for her particular brand of heavy vocal work. The band's overall sound now is a sort of heavy metal/pop which sells in vast quantities in the States, but perhaps lacks the originality of Judie Tzuke or Kate Bush's bands. Still, the audience seemed receptive and the first two segued numbers gained an enthusiastic response. Pat's voice is nothing if not powerful, able even to rise over husband Neil Geraldo's crashing guitar chords; the sound quality was excellent, the bass drum being particularly forceful, although the bass guitar was mixed much too low.
The accent was on power even for the slower numbers, the drummer having to stand up to get the last bit of volume out of his crash cymbals and Geraldo keeping up an almost constant string vibrato to obtain increased sustain. Over these Pat's voice soared on numbers like 'Get Nervous' (the title track of her current album) and 'Running with the Shadows' (the new single) occasionally taking on a fetching high-pitched vibrato reminiscent of no-one more than Geddy Lee of Rush.
Pat has a background in operatic singing, and could make her performances more varied if she let this show through more often. Although the power of the songs is adequate, the degree of variation isn't; a constant choppy organ sound used on several songs turned out to be produced by an Oberheim OBXa, which is capable of much more interesting things.
In fact the keyboards - Oberheim, Jupiter 8 and Yamaha electric grand - were only allowed to come to the fore once or twice, notably on 'Promises in the Dark' and the encore 'Hell is for Children'. The piano sound was rich and reverberant lower down but weak in the higher registers, leading to the impression that much more care had been taken with the drum and guitar sounds. 'Heartbreaker' opened with a highly resonant sweeping chord, but that's about all that was on display along the lines of imaginative synthesis.
Geraldo's guitar playing was quite versatile, with various arpeggio, slide and feedback tricks on show, and occasional use of Space Echo. Pat's voice was also treated with echo at the end of some vocal lines, a useful effect on some of the darker songs. Lighting was spectacular but underused, the most impressive trick being a sudden burst on two banks of 8 miniature spots pointing into the audience from the front of the lighting gantry. Foldback monitoring looked more than healthy, with very large cabs flown above the stage area.
As the set progressed the climaxes became more and more spectacular, with hammered-on guitar harmonics, a giant gong and Mellotron-like keyboard effects all being put to good use. Pat yelled 'Thank You!' between each number with ear-splitting sincerity and her efforts seemed to be appreciated by the enthusiastic audience. There's no denying, though, that the older material, from 'Precious Time' and 'Crimes of Passion', was the more enjoyable and imaginative, and that a greater diversity of vocal techniques would have been a bonus.
30th January 1982
Founded in 1965 and joined a year later by Marxist avant-garde composer Cornelius Cardew, AMM is one of the longest-running classical electronic ensembles and one of the first to wholly embrace the improvisational ethic.
Consisting now of John Tilbury on piano, Keith Rowe on guitar, cello and electronics and Eddie Prevost on percussion, the group made a rare appearance in the Royal Festival Halls complex to coincide with the release of their album 'Generative Themes'. The group's belief is that "music development arises out of dialogue and the constant interaction of aesthetic, moral and social considerations. The improvisational method leads not to inert solutions but to an enquiring attitude - an awareness of vital themes."
This seems reasonable enough, but what is difficult to comprehend is the apparent total divorce between classical and rock music which leads to any current belief in the need to make the sort of statement which was being made by Tangerine Dream, Amon Duul and Can twelve years ago. The closest comparison for AMM's music is in fact Tangerine Dream's 1970 album 'Reise durch ein Brennendes Gehirn' - 'Journey Through a Burning Brain', or 'Electronic Meditation' in this country.
Rowe's acoustic guitar, fitted with two pickups and laid flat on a table, was bowed and struck in such a way as to produce electronically treated sounds reminiscent of Conny Schnitzler's cello work on the Dream album. Tilbury's piano, 'prepared' in the John Cage tradition with pads, wedges and miniature electric fans attached to the strings, produced a selection of vibrant, dead or deeply resonant sounds via an HH amplifier resting inside the piano on the soundboard. Eddie Prevost's percussion techniques included bowing the edges of cowbells and cymbals as well as using the rock-style Tama kit in a more conventional, though stubbornly non-rhythmic style.
The overall sound texture ranged from restful to faintly disturbing. The guitar sound, passing through a Morley pedal, MXR Mini EQ, Big Muff fuzzbox, Polytone pedalboard and Dod and Soundmaster minimixers, varied from gentle to grinding and distorted, and was accompanied by random sounds from a transistor radio which Rowe re-tuned occasionally. These two provided a constant background against which piano and percussion came to a series of climaxes, sometimes together but more often quite independently; although John Tilbury seemed to be following some kind of score or block plan, and his playing was precise and varied, any interaction between the players seemed to be left very much to chance.
After the interval a second piece was started by re-tuning the radio and a series of marimba-like notes on the piano. Shortly afterwards a young lady in stiletto heels, returning late, clicked her way across the auditorium and almost succeeded in drowning out the musicians. Far from being annoyed they appeared quite pleased; a little ambient sound, presumably, can easily become part of the music.
It soon became clear that AMM music isn't entirely without humour; the musicians kicked table tennis balls towards each other across the floor and when one rolled down a set of steps off the stage the regular clicking for a moment provided a rhythm against which they could play. Even thumps off the effects pedals became part of the music; a church service picked up on the transistor radio gave a vague sacred air to the proceedings.
Several members of the audience sat doodling during the concert - some kind of game? - and occasionally it was tempting to see a rhythmic connection between the radio noises, the regular ululation of an electric motor on the guitar strings after steel strips had been pushed under them, the dull thump of softheaded beaters on the drum kit or the high resonant repeated piano themes. Whether the end came by mutual agreement, or was dictated by one of the two alarm clocks on Keith Rowe's table, is unclear - but one minute the music was there, and the next minute it had gone.
AMM aren't due to perform again until the Almeida festival in June, so anyone who's interested in this unusual but rather inaccessible (at least at a single hearing) form of music, would be well advised to get hold of a copy of 'Generative Themes' (recorded just before Christmas) from Matchless Records, (Contact Details).