Keith Tippett - The Tipping Point

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There are echoes of Centipede, that remarkable super sized free jazz orchestra, in the release this month of Keith Tippett’s Tapestry orchestra recording Live At The Le Mans (First Weaving). With an extraordinary coming together of heavyweight British and European free improvisers and the added fizz of a live performance, the old spirit of the great pianist Keith Tippett is there for one and all nearly 40 years after his career in music first began. Duncan Heining talks to Tippett about a renewed burst of creativity in his musical life and looks back with him to the 70s, a remarkable era when he and his band of brothers jammed at 30,000 feet on a specially charted plane. Keith Tippett - The Tipping Point
With his mutton chop sideburns, collarless shirt and waistcoat, composer-pianist Keith Tippett could easily pass for a character in a Hardy novel. Even the West Country burr and throaty laugh are in keeping. With such an image in mind, it seems unsurprising that there’s a genuinely English, pastoral quality to Keith’s music. Even though his musical palette has expanded over the years, it’s still refracted through that Albion-born sensibility that also gave rise to Blake, Wordsworth, Hardy, Elgar and Vaughan Williams. And there’s nothing ‘Obscure’ about that.

With three major releases pending, Keith’s career, and that of musical and life-partner Julie, is again in the ascendant. Live At The Le Mans (First Weaving) from Keith’s big band Tapestry comes out shortly on pianist Dave Stapleton’s Red Eye label. Then Ogun releases Ovary Lodge, a session from 1975, as well as a new CD featuring Keith, Julie, the great South African drummer Louis Moholo and the Italian orchestra and chorus Canto Generàl – Viva La Black Live At Ruvo.

Keith has always seen himself as first and foremost a jazz musician, however far some of his projects may seem to stray from those roots. But like the best of his generation, and before, he would never restrict himself to the colours, textures and forms of one style or era. Recorded in 1998 in France, First Weaving is an excellent example of that richness and diversity in his music.  

“That comes from years and years of listening. I don’t just listen to jazz and I don’t just listen to contemporary music. I love black music and I love Charlie Mingus and when I composed that piece it flowed very, very well. It literally flowed, the architecture developed itself. It’s a 75 minute piece and at least the first time it should be heard right through as one whole continual piece.”

First Weaving is Keith’s third major big band work. Before it came the mighty 50-piece Centipede and Septober Energy in 1971 and the 22-piece Ark with Frames in 1978. This new work is just as vast. The first hearing will just about take in its splendid structure, while repeated listening is required to absorb the detail of its craftsmanship. Inside the fabric of the building are fabulous vocal performances from Julie, Vivien Ellis and Maggie Nichols. There is superlative trumpet from Pino Minafra and alto from Gianluigi Trovesi and a wonderful ‘Three Tenors’ section with Paul Dunmall, Simon Picard and Larry Stabbins. It’s an international, pan-generational band but one that includes a number of old friends, as Keith explains.

“Larry Stabbins was on Frames and Septober Energy and Dave Amis was also on all three. Paul Rutherford was in Centipede. Julie and Maggie, of course, Louis Moholo, though he wasn’t on the record, played with Centipede. Of course, Henry Lowther was on all three and Marc Charig was in The Ark. And there’s a student of mine, Gethin Liddington, on lead trumpet and Oren Marshall on tuba and Vivien Ellis from the F-ire Collective and Early Music Ensemble. So, it’s quite a mix of ages. I also would pay to hear Tony Levin and Louis Moholo sitting side by side. That’s worth 10 quid of anybody’s money.”

Commissioned jointly by the BBC, the Arts Council and Bath Festival, it had always been Keith’s hope that he could take the band into the studio to record the work. He had been given a tape of the Le Mans’ gig but had resisted all the blandishments of friends and colleagues to release the tape commercially. It was Dave Stapleton, who finally persuaded Keith to put it out.

This is an extract from Jazzwise Issue #109 to read the full feature and receive a Free CD subscribe here…