Thursday 11 January 2018, 7.30pm
“Whenever the innovative jazz and contemporary-classical music of recent times gets weighed up, the name of Keith Tippett doesn't surface as often as it should. Yet for his prepared-piano experiments, early advances in jazz-rock fusion, compositions for chamber ensembles, adventures for huge orchestras and more, the Bristol-born pianist and composer is a key figure in European art music.” – The Guardian
Keith Tippett presents The Rare Music Club – two nights specially curated by Tippett himself, featuring collaborations spanning the formidable breadth of his creative output. Tippett is one of the most important European jazz musicians (improvisers, composers, arrangers) in the last 40 years and its with great pleasure that we welcome him back to Cafe OTO.
Keith and Julie Tippett are among the most important European jazz musicians (improvisers, composers, arrangers) in the last 40 years. The extent of their work is vast both individually and as a couple; here is a short story around an epic journey.
Keith Tippett has become the father figure of postmodern jazz piano in the UK. The only dispute in such a statement is the word ‘jazz’; used here to describe a music extending way beyond the bounds of music rooted in “the great American moment”. Keith Tippett has created and fashioned a form of spontaneous composition that finds its setting in totally unique solo piano studies via quartets, sextets, octets and large scale interactive jazz orchestras, fusing compositional arrangements with detailed instant improvising (Centipede, Ark, the Georgian Ensemble and Tapestry Orchestra). The breadth of his activity trips the imagination into a massive canon of possibilities and resolutions. For example his work with Louis Moholo-Moholo and the other ‘Blue Notes’ musicians exiled from South Africa in the 1960’s, plus his on-going commissions in contemporary music composition including the stunning ‘Linukea’ Piano Quintet, his key role in the legendary decades-driven quartet, Mujician with Paul Dunmall, Paul Rogers and Tony Levin, and finally, at the heart of it all, the essential core duo of Couple In Spirit with Julie Tippetts. The conclusion is starkly obvious, we are faced with a phenomenon way, way outside any kind of regular understanding of British ‘jazz’ and improvisation.
A singer beyond song, the great Julie Tippetts (the ‘s’ is a story for another day) is, perhaps inevitably, bound up in most of the above paragraph referring to her husband. Although she is a central catalyst in his work, her importance is also as a poet and creator of a distinctly independent language within the song form, a crucial factor in their collective story. In 1967 as Julie Driscoll with Brian Auger’s Trinity, she scored a hit record with ‘This Wheel’s on Fire’. Within two years Julie by-passed popular music conventions, painstakingly exploring her way into what would become a whole new vocabulary of soundscape. By the early 1970’s her presence in the pioneering quartet version of Ovary Lodge with Keith laid the foundations for improvisation as a unique form of instant composition. Today her voice remains a panoply of experimentation. The Western song form is not rejected yet neither are Keith and Julie Tippett confined by it. Julie has produced her own canon of recordings, including ‘Ghosts of Gold’ and ‘Tales of Finin’, collaborative works with computer wizard and multi-instrumentalist Martin< Archer. ‘Tales’ was voted a Jazzwise magazine 2011 ‘Record of the Year’. Other collaborators at different times have included John Stevens, Maggie Nicols, Carla Bley and Robert Wyatt.
Any attempt to summarise Keith and Julie Tippett on one side of paper leaves out more than it includes. Although hugely influential Keith Tippett is a mysterious figure. His in-depth interview in 2010 on the BBC Radio 3 Jazz Library series revealed the scope and brilliance of his vision. As the title ‘Supernova’ (his piano duet with Stan Tracey released in 2008) suggests, this is music which literally explodes the possible. The fusion with Julie Tippetts is intensely personal yet totally crucial to their distinctly different kind of feast for the ears. To listen to the eloquence
The Keith Tippett Octet: The Nine Dances of Patrick O’Gonogon (Discus 56CD) Keith Tippett, piano, composer; Fulvio Sigurta, trumpet, flugelhorn; Sam Mayne, alto & soprano saxophones, flute; James Gardiner-Bateman, alto saxophone; Kieran McLeod, trombone; Rob Harvey, trombone; Tom McCredie, double bass; Peter Fairclough, drums, percussion with Julie Tippetts, voice on track 10. (Note: Jim Gold replaces Sam Mayne for tonight’s performance.)
Everyone has influences. Keith Tippett, like the great Charles Mingus, is now acknowledged as a world class improviser of spontaneous composition; yet both men were/are, at their creative core, writers of pre-determined inspired scores and arrangements. Just as Mingus’ classic performances stem from what were initially written down, a case can be made that Mr Tippett’s written-through compositions like Septober Energy, Thoughts to Geoff, Tortworth Oak, A Loose Kite, Linückea and the spell binding Dedicated To Mingus, are the bedrock on which he will be judged. Now add to this list - The Nine Dances of Patrick O’Gonogon. Mingus and Tippett share an ability to write inventive material from leftfield perspectives, and then have the dots transformed by extemporised performances using compatriots who understand adventure.
From the insistent opening, with its nod to Yardbird, the collective reeds and brass punch their way through the score, this ‘in-memorial’ to Tippett’s family’s linage, with roots in rural Ireland, is not going to be bodhrans and fiddles. The Dance of The Return Of The Swallows sounds like a bridge to Colm Toibin’s Brooklyn. New York was built by Irish navvys and sound-tracked by saxophones. In a real sense Toibin and Tippett are both writing fiction
Swallows is not Bop, instead it has all the hallmarks of Tippett’s own musical history. Tightly arranged with a massive SOUND and then the terrific drive through the whole ensemble shouts and swings just like Duke Ellington said it should. By the time we reach Tom McCredie’s pithy loose double bass break, part pause-part reflection we know we are into the good stuff. McCredie’s interlude signals a boundary to be crossed; for a few minutes there’s tense activity among the band before they segue into track 2, The Dance of The Intangible Touching, one of those classic slow pieces which cradles a non-improvised solo from the leader, seemingly floating off the fingers like a poem. Keith Tippett has produced many such moments, seemingly holding the keyboard in a trance. Whether he’s pre-written it, or simply found it in the moment of its making, he signs this music as his own. It’s a gift, and he does it here elegantly.
The Dance of The Sheer Joy of It All qualifies as ‘folk’ dance but James Gardiner-Bateman’s alto and Fulvio Sigurta’s trumpet don’t let in the céilidh band. Bateman’s solo break is decisive. He nails the speed and exuberance of the piece without turning to pastiche. It’s a clever interpolation on both the structure and idea of ‘dance’; makes you want to whoop. He sets up Sigurta’s horn to knock things about a bit and alter the shape of Sheer Joy. I first heard Gardiner-Bateman when he was sitting-in at a gig with Pee-Wee Ellis and Fred Wesley; socking it to the former JB Horns with a young man’s confidence like he knew he could bring air and dynamics to the encounter. He did too and some! With Keith Tippett he opens up the whole theatre of the Octet.
See, Tippett always has had an antenna toward alto sax players. The obvious great partnership was with the late Elton Dean, but there have been many alto encounters. Dudu Pukwana and Trevor Watts, the Italian marvel Gianluigi Trovesi, and people closer to home like Kevin Figes and Aaron Standon. The alto saxophone is a very dextrous reed. Tippett’s affinity with the alto horn enables players to spill out and find themselves in his music. What all these nine dances have is character. They offer themselves up as places where a musician can imprint their personality into the event without losing the essential Tippett signature. I call it a sharing, he is in that sense a very generous writer. Sam Mayne’s alto entry on The Dance of The Walk With The Sun On His Back is the kind of slow squeeze sax that tells a thousand stories. It drops off a luxurious written melody line that makes it easy for him. By the time they reach dance number nine, The Wily Old Fox of The Ballyhoura Mountains we are utterly engaged with the man Tippett calls O’Gonogon. The tune is touch-and- go drama in the ensemble voicings set up by deep piano stabs culminating in Bateman’s alto and Sigurta’s trumpet sparing for space. There really is a Wily Old Fox in this arrangement and he can out dance anyone who says otherwise. The one sung song is The Dance of Her Returning a poignant coda featuring Julie Tippetts’ voice. It reminded me of a little known composition in the Tippett portfolio entitled The Irish Girl’s Tear, now rarely performed. I hear Irish Girl as a lament, though it has no lyric as far as I know. Her Returning feels rather like a companion piece given voice. I think it is the mark of a great writer that he can ‘return’ himself to his own past and produce a sequel capable of taking us deeper into the entry point of who this imagined O’Gonogon character really is. Is Julie Tippetts singing about the composer or the fictional character? We will never really know.
Mr Tippett, this is the one! Thank goodness that Richard Wiltshire had the foresight to commission the recording and a gold star to Serious for booking the band in 2017. The Keith Tippett Octet is on a genuine roll, dance! You won’t be sorry.
Steve Day www.stevedaywordsandmusic.co.uk The above article is based on a revision of a review originally posted by Sandy Brown Jazz What’s New Magazine http://www.sandybrownjazz.co.uk/whatsnew.html September 2016