Sunday, 28 October 2007

Keith Tippett...

I'm finding myself feeling pretty excited about the upcoming gig by Keith Tippets's Mujician, even though it's almost two weeks away. This surprises me. I've seen them at least half a dozen times before, and Tippett many times solo, but I'd never really regarded myself as a devoted fan. Yet this review, written at a time when I was generally out of sympathy with a lot of the European avant-garde, clearly shows that I find him a bit of a special case.

His performances have something magical and ritualistic about them, and the music is never less than inspiring. I always come away feeling as though I've witnessed something powerful and heartfelt.

It's common to talk about the 'x factor' these days, a pretty meaningless concept as it's so subjective. Beyond the world where people are spoon-fed their culture, it may have some meaning. For me, Tippett, has it in spades...


Song; Dance; Glimpse; Blues I; Woodcut; Blues II.

Keith Tippett (p); Julie Tippetts (voc, g, mand, rec); Ray Babbington (b); Keith Bailey (perc); Frank Perry (perc)
Recorded 1972.

From introspective solo piano improvisations and the behemoth 50-piece Centipede Orchestra to a composition for piano and string quartet, pianist Keith Tippett has never lacked in ambition. His recordings have spanned jazz, prog-rock, free improvisation and avant garde composition with equal alacrity. A singular figure in English contemporary music, his music has always been characterised by an unashamedly melodic focus, no matter how ‘difficult’ it sometimes becomes.

This recording, originally released by major label RCA in 1972, is considered by many to be one of his finest. It may also be one of the most accessible, predicting the directions later taken with Ovary Lodge. Produced by King Crimson collaborator Robert Fripp, Blueprint is an austere collection of improvised but architecturally intact pieces. From the opening bars of ‘Song’ a pervasive sense of calm, rarely giving way to anything overtly threatening, is established. Tippett’s rhapsodic piano and Babbington’s LaFaro-esque bass circle their way through a steadily intensifying field of percussive coloration, building and releasing tension in much the same way as Keith Jarrett’s contemporaneous formations.

‘Dance’ is the first we hear of wife Julie’s peculiar wordless vocals, and her abstract feedback tinged guitar lends the piece an unusual air. The two ‘Blues’ are a long way from any conventional understanding of the form that you may hold, the strict rules of tradition observed more in the breech. ‘Woodcut’ is the disc’s longest and most claustrophobically introspective improvisation. Opening with a dramatically struck piano arpeggio, Julie Tippetts then plays some decidedly atonal recorder before the piece moves into a relatively static four-way exchange, eventually reaching kind of violent climax that fans of Mujician’s torrential lava flow will know and love.

The closing ‘Blues II’ features some remarkably Japanese sounding mandolin, establishing a suitably zen-like tranquility. ‘Blueprint’ has aged well and is both a reminder of a time when improvised music had something fresh and eloquent to say and also an era when a major record label was prepared to back it. Times may have changed on both counts, but documents such as this deserve their reissue.

Fred Grand
(Jazz Review, November 2004)

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