There’s an astonishing level of telepathic interplay in this serpentine improvisation.
Daniel Spicer 2010-12-06
Keith was the free-jazz pianist who crossed over into art-rock in the early 70s, playing with King Crimson and, in 1970, convening the monstrously ambitious Centipede, an avant-garde big band that drew together more than 50 of the UK’s most adventurous jazz and rock musicians. Since then he’s recorded and performed prolifically with groups including Mujician with saxophonist Paul Dunmall, and Ovary Lodge, alongside percussionist Frank Perry and his wife, Julie. Mrs Tippett – nee Driscoll – was the mod-soul sensation who worked with Rod Stewart and Long John Baldry in Steampacket, and found pop stardom with Brian Auger and the Trinity, providing witchy vocals for 1968’s definitive psychedelic version of Bob Dylan’s This Wheel’s On Fire before, in the 70s, making a concerted move out of the charts and into experimental vocals.
They’ve been making music together for four decades and, unsurprisingly, there’s an astonishing level of telepathic interplay in this serpentine 46-minute improvisation, recorded live as part of the 2008 London Jazz Festival. Essentially, it’s a piano and vocal duet, but that doesn’t begin to describe the level of invention here. Keith Tippett is a pioneer of the prepared piano in improv – using woodblocks, pebbles and assorted bric-a-brac to alter the sound of the strings, and creating unfamiliar sounds ranging from a buzzing, metallic rasp to fidgety harpsichord. When combined with his two-handed, mechanistic constructions – rolling forward with crashing momentum – he sounds unlike any other pianist alive. Julie grounds this with an earthier, more human presence bringing a substance and depth that owes much to her background in soul. But there’s a hyperactive intellect at work, too. She flits from ululating glossolalia to operatic trills, from bluesy hollers to sibilant mutters, often within the space of a few seconds: a largely wordless performance, into which she effortlessly weaves her enigmatic poems.
It’s an emotionally rich statement from a couple who are deeply committed to creative music. As the sleeve notes put it: "May music never just become another way of making money."