Review: Keith Tippett Octet and Keith Tippett / Julie Tippetts Duo at Cafe Oto

Keith Tippett and Julie Tippetts at Cafe Oto
Drawing by Geoffrey Winston. © 2014. All Rights Reserved

Keith Tippett Octet and Keith Tippett / Julie Tippetts Duo
(Cafe Oto, 25 February 2014; review and drawings by Geoff Winston)

Two contrasting sets from Keith Tippett, made for an engrossing and exhilarating evening, traversing the jazz, improvised and contemporary territories that the Bristol-born keyboard wizard and composer occupies with such consummate mastery.

The first set was a stardust-sprinkled duet with his wife and partner, vocalist Julie Tippetts, a meditation in non-verbal poetry which demonstrated Julie's extraordinary expressive vocal range and Keith's demanding approach to the piano which took them from the tiniest sounds to thunderous, percussive passages.

Keith graced the keys with pin-sharp assurance. Intricate runs were crossed with percussive perpetual motion and dramatically clipped harpsichord timbres as he applied a variety of blocks to the wires. The handle of a tiny musical box was turned to add a minute glint of glitter.

Julie multi-tasked not only with haunting voicings, but with recorder, rings and taps on percussion implements to round off the edges of their enchanting spontaneous composition.

The second half was a very different story - a second London outing for Keith Tippett's 'The Nine Dances of Patrick O'Gonogon', a major work for octet (and solo male dancer, where venue space allows), generously commissioned by Richard Wiltshire, based on a fictional character related to Tippett's Irish ancestry.

The gloriously poetic titles of each movement give the clues to the spirit of the suite - 'The Dance of the Return of the Swallows' is the first, and 'The Dance of the Bike Ride from Shinanagh Bridge with the Wind at his Back' and 'The Dance of the Wiley Old Fox of the Ballyhoura Mountains' make links with County Cork.

The ensemble filled the room with immense brass power right from the start. This was committed playing from an adept and imaginative young group, energetic and high-spirited, which rose to every challenge in Tippett's complex composition, adapting their tone as each milestone demanded. Superbly executed, this followed Tippett's tenet that 'I'd rather be over rehearsed than under-rehearsed', as he explained in his interview with LondonJazz News.

Tippett, playing with exceptional dexterity, also conducted from the piano stool, weaving his input through the rhythm and brass sections, with hints of the way that Ellington brought in organist Wild Bill Davies as a counter to his entire orchestra. The balance was perfectly poised, and the sound in the Cafe Oto room equally so.

Reuben Fowler at Cafe Oto
Drawing by Geoffrey Winston. © 2014. All Rights Reserved

Tippett left the space for each musician to break out of the highly notated structure of the suite, and to stamp their own imprint on the performance. From the brass came muted trombone calls and diversions from Kieran McLeod and Robbie Harvey, brightly whimsical trumpet flights from Reuben Fowler and rocket-powered alto solos from both James Gardiner-Bateman and Sam Mayne.

The percussion experience of Peter Fairclough ('an old comrade', as Tippett has put it) served well to complement Tom McCredie's careful bass work to keep the pace in check, as it ducked and dived with the the near-hysterical momentum of a Mingus band in full flight.

Tippett and the Octet deserved no less than their standing ovation from a delighted audience, which he accepted with characteristic modesty.

'The Nine Dances of Patrick O'Gonogon' will be performed again by the Keith Tippett Octet at the Vortex on11 April - put it in the diary.

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