I would urge anyone reading this to not only buy a copy but also to encourage everyone they know who has a passing interest in the excitement of modern jazz to also buy copies.

Pig Records

Matthew Bourne, Glen Leach: Pianos; Julie Tippetts and Maggie Nichols: Voices

From Granite to Wind Septet: Kevin Figes, Ben Waghorn, James Gardiner-Bateman, Jake McMurchie, Saxophones; Al Swainger: Bass; Tony Orrell: Drums; Jim Blomfield: Piano

Double Dreamtime: Harrison Smith, Paul Dunmall: Saxophones; Jim Dvorak, Kevin Davey: Trumpets; Alan Tomlinson, Richard Foote: Trombones; Jim Le Baigue, Mark Sanders: Drums; Roberto Bellatalla, Paul Rogers: Bass

Paul Dunmall Quartet: Paul Dunmall: Saxophones; Paul Rogers: Bass; Liam Noble: Piano; Mark Sanders: Drums

The Keith Tippett Celebration Orchestra: Gethin Liddington, Pete Judge, Andy Hague, Jim Dvorak, Kevin Davey: Trumpets; Kevin Figes, Ben Waghorn, Jake McMurchie, James Gardiner-Bateman, Mark Langford: Saxophones; Alan Tomlinson, Richard Foote, Gareth Roberts, Justin Pavey: Trombones; Jim Blomfield: Piano; Al Swainger: Bass; Tony Orrell, Miles Levin: Drums

A series of six concerts recorded at St Georges in Bristol on Saturday 2nd October 2021 to celebrate the life of jazz pioneer Keith Tippett
Concert organising committee: Janinka Diverio, Nod Knowles, Ian Storror
, Kevin Figes

This is a generous serving of six performances, each lasting 40 to 50 minutes, to celebrate the life and music of one of British jazz’s most significant contributors.   All performances (or ‘celebrations’ as the track list has them) took place, in Bristol, over a single day.

The first celebration opens with a 20-minute improvisation of two grand pianos working a delicately unfolding harmony before they crash into a powerful thunderstorm of crescendoing arpeggios and rumbling chords, with notes played inside and outside the pianos.

This captures some of the exuberance of Tippet’s own enjoyment in exploring the noises that the piano could be forced to make and his pleasure in sudden shifts from thunderclaps to a gentle patter of finely dropped notes.  When the music pauses, you can almost hear the audience holding its breath waiting for the next development.

Immediately after this Matthew Bourne recollects his time playing duets with Tippets and how Keith would say that ‘we can go anywhere we please, and the only thing that limits us is our imagination’.  The duet then continues fiercely and emphatically, conjuring Tippet’s spirit while also giving the audience the opportunity to relish Bourne and Leach at their peak.

The second celebration has Julie Tippets and Maggie Nichols giving an object lesson in the breadth, beauty and surprise that can be created using the human voice alone. That this is recorded live, without benefits of overdubs or mixing, is impressive and the music they create is captivating. Around a dozen minutes in, Nichols moves to the piano first to pepper the vocals with stabbed notes and then (one assumes with Tippets’ assistance in plucking strings inside the piano) to weave the music into a rich tapestry of sounds.

This shifts into a verbal comedy a la French and Saunders that tickles the audience and moves from a discussion of whether there was time for more to the tinkling of musical boxes and Tippetts’ recalls his love of these and his love of the word ‘comrade’ before a final spoken word ends with ‘and the eye of the moon is watching’ and then a long coda fading into breathing.  The performance is astonishing and utterly immersive.

The third celebration recreates (or perhaps reimagines?) Tippett’s 2011 suite ‘From Granite to Wind’ with a septet that includes the triple saxophone frontline from the original recording.  Blomfiled bravely takes the piano stool and introduces the piece with an extemporised, heart-felt tribute that inhabits Tippets’ original introduction while also standing outside it to celebrate its complexity.  The familiar tune kicks in with its off-kilter riffs that feels as if they are designed to wrong- foot the ensemble.  But it is McMurchie’s tenor saxophone soloing that kicks the piece to even greater heights.

The fourth celebration takes the Dreamtime group and doubles each instrument (reworking the ‘Double Trouble’ album).  The recording of the whole concert is superb, but on this track in particular the separation of instruments allows the listener to fully appreciate how the doubling provides both an echo and a Greek Chorus to comment on what the other instrument is doing.

In this respect, the doubling is not merely a way of amplifying the sound but also a way of allowing sounds to drift from one instrument to another and ideas to leach from one player to the other.  The ensemble absolutely capture the joy that Tippet took in allowing music the space to emerge and blossom in unexpected ways.

There are aspects of the large ensemble free improvisations of Coleman or Coltrane in the ways in which Tippett’s piece ebbs and flows, but there is also that peculiarly English eccentricity that he brought into his music in which a sort of Wonderland logic turns pieces inside out without losing any of their sense and integrity.

The fifth celebration gives Dunmall scope to represent Mujician.  Whereas the other pieces begin with audience applause, this celebration seems to catch the audience off-guard and launches directly into squabbling saxophone and burbling bass.  By the time the piano intrudes into the argument, a sort of truce has been called and the music accumulates a sense of communal understanding.

What I enjoyed about this performance was the ways in which each musician respected their bandmates and how the soloing didn’t feel pre-planned but grew from the interplay of the musicians.  That the original line-up of Mujician has lost core members also added piquancy to this celebration and the quartet produced an exuberant celebration of the premise of Mujician and wonderful expression of its music.

The sixth celebration sees the Granite to Wind septet expanded further into an ensemble that is able to probe and explore the opportunities that an orchestra offers.  One feels that Keith would not only have delighted in the sounds and textures produced but would have wanted to be at the piano stool (or toy piano or music box) to help steer, shape, and encourage the music as it developed.

While it is marvellous that Pig Records has produced this set and that the recording is so crystal clear, it almost feels sad that this tremendous celebration is not being distributed by a major label.  My review copy came courtesy of Discus and they should be praised for assisting in this.  I would urge anyone reading this to not only buy a copy (or more than one copy) but also to encourage everyone they know who has a passing interest in the excitement of modern jazz to also buy copies.