CD review

Keith Tippett – The Unlonely Raindancer

Keith Tippett – The Unlonely Raindancer
(Discus 81CD – CD review by Mark McKergow)

This first-time-on-CD reissue of Keith Tippett’s first solo piano recordings from 1979 is an important reminder of his storming style and eloquence on the instrument, a precursor of later work both solo and with his quartet Mujician.

Let’s beam ourselves back to the late 1970s. Keith Tippett had arrived in London from his native Bristol more than a decade earlier, played with the Blue Note musicians like Dudu Pukwana, Mongezi Feza and Louis Moholo from South Africa, become known for leading huge bands like Centipede and Ark, been on Top Of The Pops with King Crimson and married pop star Julie Driscoll; quite the happening guy. However, in the late 1970s things were not looking that rosy; a concert tour of the Netherlands loomed, no money to pay for a band to accompany him, and so Tippett took the plunge to play a series of solo concerts based almost entirely on improvised music.

His sole companion Rob Sötemann acted as promoter, driver, roadie and also recording engineer, capturing these performances and selecting passages for release as a double LP on his own Universal Productions label, long since deleted. The tapes were stored by Ogun Records’ Hazel Miller for the next 40 years, until Discus’ Martin Archer decided to take on the task of re-mastering and releasing the album again. This has been no small task – there is no master tape, and so Archer has had to re-assemble the music from 600-plus minutes of original on-tour recordings, using the original sound as a guide. It has clearly been a labour of love.

Rob Sötemann’s role is key to the music; as well as (presumably) selecting the passages to be released, he edited out the audience applause. This leaves each of the nine tracks somehow suspended in time, without touching the ground of the time or immediate context. From the opening seconds, the music is unmistakably Keith Tippett, with intense fast rippling fingerwork which sometimes belies the slow and measured ways in which the music develops and evolves through each track. The Muted Melody, for example, starts with a rolling low ostinato figure played with tremendous clarity, moving around and evolving until it lands on a mid-level ripple after about four minutes. This passage, still boldy intense by most standards, almost comes as quiet reflective relief.

One thing that comes across again and again is the way in which Tippett’s fast-moving fingers sustain and develop gradual changes and melodic statements. This is clear on the two versions of Tortworth Oak (named after the village in Gloucestershire where Tippett has lived since the mid 1970s), the only pre-thought piece on the album which was developed as the tour progressed. The tune resurfaced on the Mujician & The Georgian Ensemble concert recorded in Bristol in 1991 for Radio 3 and released in 2000, where it is revealed as a stately and glowing melody, shorn of the rapid-fire piano attack. There are some quieter moments too – The Pool has a beautiful limpid feel, while Thank God For My Wife And Children builds over eight minutes from Tippett’s audible humming accompanying himself to a startling conclusion.

This is fiery, committed music-making which can be seen as paving the way for Tippett’s later work both on solo piano (The Dartington Concert and Mujician Solo IV Live are fine examples) and his continuied fascination with improvisation, notably with the Mujician quartet with saxophonist Paul Dunmall, bassist Paul Rogers and the late Tony Levin on drums. It is important work in the development of the music we call jazz, and the reappearance of these performances is very welcome.

LINK: Preview the music on the Discus website 

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