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Thursday, 10 May 2012

Live Review - Keith Tippett Octet

Vortex, London, April 25 2012

So, apparently, the rule is that we don’t usually “do” jazz at Shindig! Unless, that is, it’s mod jazz, soul jazz, things people would have danced to in clubs in the 60s and 70s, which basically makes it closer to R’n’B. And I can see to some extent why- after all, even a wide remit has to have boundaries somewhere. Yet I make no bones about slipping this review in, because in Keith Tippett, not only do we have a former King Crimson member, the man who tinkled the ivories on classics like ‘Cat Food’ and ‘Happy Family’ before forming seminal jazz-prog ensembles Centipede and Ovary Lodge, but in Julie, or as we better know her, ‘Jools’, we have a woman who, under her former soubriquet of Julie Driscoll, graced our front cover last year, once epitomised the look of the Mod female, recorded unbelievable milestones like ‘Open’ and ‘Streetnoise’, and, on her own, graced the world with ‘Sunset Glow’- one of the most mind-melting exercises in free-form psychedelia ever recorded. And between them, half the musicians they either jammed or collaborated with or employed gave birth to about 30 percent of what we now take for granted as the British prog scene, particularly in Canterbury.

So, in other words, this is going in. And yes, in case you wondered, what I witnessed tonight was both still 100 percent psychedelic - in the truest sense of the word, i.e. ‘self revealing’, and, on a superficial level, relevant to people who would have worn the sharpest suits known to man back in ’68. Hell, Keith Tippett still wears them. He also, even more so now than ever before, plays like a man simultaneously possessed by the ghosts of both Erik Satie and Mary Lou Williams. On the extreme other side of the stage, Julie, sat unassumingly against the window, scats, hums, vocaleses, trills and harmonises with the three-man horn line (no double entendres, please) in the wordless, ominous yet ecstatic language known only to a true mistress of her craft. “Inarticulate speech of the heart”, I believe Van The Man called it, and yet, somehow, Mrs Tippett’s articulacy is crystal clear. Without wanting to sound pretentious, or to slip into clichéd jazzspeak, I dig what she is saying, maaan: a thousand feelings of euphoria engendered by close contact with the beauty of true art. Either that, or she’s left the gas on- but either way, it cannot fail to captivate. Nor, for that matter can the snaking sax lines of Paul Dunmall and Ben Waghorn.

In the case of a gig like this, individual tunes matter less and the overall unified concept is the thing, which is just as well, as titles escape me- although I can say that two slower stanzas (the second dedicated to the recently deceased Tony Marsh) featured actual lyrics from Jools, again rent with psychotropic imagery, and ended on shimmering whispers from both sax and human voice not often heard outside a Gong concert. Then again, like I said, she and Keith were often the first when it came to “this kinda jazz”, a term often used to describe the varying minutiae of psych and prog but which in this context actually means jazz itself. Not that such classification renders it unpalatable to the broadminded Shindigger, though, and indeed, several chord structures, harmonies and counterpoints were not only shot through with the cry of the blues but could just have easily featured in the work of a dozen favourites often mentioned here, from Elephants Memory and early Chicago through Galliard and Egg right up to Dexys. Seriously, it was all there. It always was.

It also comes to an end far too suddenly, but why try to improve on something that’s already sublime? Strangely enough, though you wouldn’t always know it from the track lengths, to be truly progressive also means to know exactly when to finish, so that you can begin as soon as possible on your next great work. I can’t wait.


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