Live reviews

Keith Tippett Weekend – Bristol Beacon & St. George’s Bristol

Keith Tippett Weekend
(Bristol Beacon and St. George’s Bristol. Fri 1 & Sat 2 October 2021. Live review by Tony Dudley-Evans)

Friday evening: Rare Music Club (Bristol Beacon)

The reaction from players, organisers and audience members to the opening night of the weekend dedicated to the memory of Keith Tippett seemed to be that Keith would have loved the music and the occasion. This first night presented a celebration of the Rare Music Club, the cross-genre event that Keith established in Bristol, and which programmed on each night jazz, folk and contemporary classical music, revelling in the opportunity to break down barriers between them.

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The opening act was Theo May’s Odd Unit, a group led by composer/violinist Theo May which in its mixing of genres typifies the Rare Music Club approach. We heard Balkan folk melodies mixed in with free improvisation, folk with a strong groove, jazz with elements of folk language, all played with great energy and originality. May also spoke movingly of how Keith had inspired him, and acted as a kind of grandfather to him.

Philip Sheppard. Photo credit Steven Cropper

The second act featured two players from the classical world: violinist David Le Page and cellist Philip Sheppard, both of whom had met Keith and determined to work with him. They did so in Keith’s string quintet playing in the first performances of Linuckea, and its recording. Le Page and Sheppard played a series of short pieces, mostly as a duo but also as soloists. Most were contemporary pieces, but others were from medieval times. All fitted the occasion really well, and showed how contemporary classical music, especially when played in a small group, really does overlap with contemporary jazz and folk.

Chris Wood, who played the third set, was introduced as one of the UK’s top three folk singers. He justified that claim with a witty, irreverent and very musical set of songs. On one song he suddenly announced that he felt the song needed a trumpet solo, and after a short time he was joined for certain numbers, not by a trumpet player, but by the excellent bass clarinet player from Theo May’s Odd Unit, Gustavo Clayton-Marucci. This really added something special to the set. It was really pleasing to hear Wood suggesting the addition of an instrumental solo to a song; it’s something I have always wanted when listening to folk or world music. It does happen, but not that often. Great that it did on this occasion, and it’s certainly something that Keith would have loved.

Paul Rogers. Photo credit Steven Cropper

The final full set was a totally improvised set from a quartet led by Paul Dunmall on tenor and alto saxophones with Phil Gibbs on guitar, Paul Rogers on bass and Tony Orrell on drums. Again Keith would have loved this as he was a key member of the Mujician quartet with Dunmall, Rogers and Tony Levin. In the set we heard Dunmall’s ability to react in the moment to what is happening musically around him; there were some beautiful passages with Dunmall interacting with Gibbs, and other more forceful passages with him interacting with Rogers.

The evening finished with a short rendition of a Tippett song: The Dance Of Her Returning from the The Nine Dances of Patrick O’Gonogon album with Keith’s wife Julie Tippetts, Maggie Nicols and Kevin Figes joining other musicians who had played during the evening.

Saturday all day: St. George’s Bristol

The first afternoon session focussed on two duos. Keith’s last tour was with fellow pianist Matthew Bourne and that duo had been due to play Bristol. Bourne attributes the way he plays piano to hearing and working with Keith, and here paid tribute to him in a two-piano duo with Glen Leach. They interacted beautifully, bouncing ideas off each other, mostly developing strong melodic lines, but occasionally playing inside the piano.

Maggie Nicols. Photo credit Steven Cropper

Julie Tippetts and Maggie Nicols performed a stunning set full of musicality, wit and fun. They are clearly good friends and enjoy improvising together. They began with wordless singing using the textures of the voice very imaginatively, and then adding in rhythmic elements on small percussion instruments. There was a structure to it all, but a lot of spontaneity within that structure. Towards the end of the set they moved into a very witty dialogue full of banter about Maggie’s toenails and a tame rat.   

The rest of the day was dedicated to ensembles of various sizes that Keith led, played in and wrote music for. In some of these groups the focus was on the writing, while in others it was on free improvisation. In the From Granite To Wind Septet it was the writing for a line up of four saxophones plus piano, bass and drums that stood out with the possibilities of the textures that line up creates fully exploited. There were of course excellent solos from all concerned; saxophonists: Kevin Figes, Ben Waghorn, James Gardiner-Bateman and Jake McMurchie. In this set and also in the later set by the Keith Tippett Celebration Orchestra, Jim Blomfield had the arguably impossible task of taking Keith’s place. Not only his sensitivity shone through, but also his respect for Keith’s legacy and a deep knowledge of it.

By contrast, Double Dreamtime placed the emphasis on free improvisation and just a few composed passages. Dreamtime was a band that Nick Evans used to lead with Jim Dvorak, Gary Curson, Roberto Bellatella, and Jim Le Baigue, which Keith joined and wrote pieces for. This version of the band takes its name from the doubling of all the instruments: two trumpets, two trombones, two saxophones, two double basses and two drums. The set featured a lot of collective improvisation and an equal amount of very enjoyable chaos; there is something very special about the sound of a large ensemble improvising freely. There were also a number of fine individual solos from the members of the band, notably from trumpeter Jim Dvorak, trombonists Alan Tomlinson and Richard Foote and Paul Dunmall playing a blues solo.

Paul Dunmall. Photo credit Steven Cropper

The penultimate set featured a second quartet led by Paul Dunmall. Here the link with Keith was that the instrumentation was the same as that for Mujician. Liam Noble was on piano and Mark Sanders was on drums. Noble fits into this quartet really well, and the way he and Dunmall react to each other is very exciting. Sanders and Rogers have played with Dunmall for many years and their rhythmic drive added to the excitement.

The final set featured the 18-piece Keith Tippett Celebration Orchestra directed by Kevin Figes who had arranged various compositions written by Keith for both his Centipede band and The Dedication Orchestra. Most of these featured Keith’s harmonically rich writing that struck me as having a touch of sadness about it, but the set finished with a rousing up-tempo version of the South African tune Mra. As a kind of encore the Orchestra, with a few additions, played a long improvisation dedicated to Keith.

This was a brilliant weekend that brought out very successfully the contribution Keith Tippett made to British jazz and improvised music. It was well attended, and extremely well organised by Kevin Figes, Nod Knowles, Trish Brown, Janinka Diverio, Ian Storror, Polly Eldridge, Todd Wills, Jon Taylor and Jonathan Scott.

A livestream of the event is available until midnight on Tuesday 5 October, find out more and watch here.

5 replies »

  1. A very good summing up of an excellent weekend of music and a fine celebration of the life of Keith Tippett. But may I please correct one oversight. Surely the musician given the challenging role of taking Keith Tippett’s seat at the piano for the From the Granite to Wind Septet and the Celebration Orchestra sets, and played beautifully in both, Jim Blomfield, deserved a mention.

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