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August 19, 2013 5:35 pm
The centre section of Keith Tippett’s three-night Vortex residency opened with his all-improvising piano trio introduced as never having played together before. It was followed by Tippett’s jazz octet premiering a new piece. All was not quite as announced, though, as Tippett’s first-set collaborators turned out to be the same bassist and drummer who would power five brass through the three movements of the recently commissioned suite, “The Nine Dances of Patrick O’Gonogon”. Slightly hesitant at first, they flourished under Tippett’s guidance, and, in the second half, were rock-solid following every twist of Tippett’s complex score.
Tippett is a graphic and inventive free improviser on piano, and in the first half he guided his first-outing trio through a considerable chunk of 20th-century music. Jazz piano orthodoxy was twinned with abstraction, high-note trills cascaded over a chatter of brushes and a simple minor-key theme was developed in full. It was held together by Tippett’s sensitivity and innate sense of form and by drummer Peter Fairclough stripping rhythm to its essence. The set ended with the chimes of a music box, a prolonged silence and, just as applause was about to erupt, a nifty unaccompanied solo from bassist Tom McCredie.
Tippett’s writing for octet brought together a similar spread of influences and added a vivid sense of place – “The Ballyhoura Mountains”, where, he said, the Irish side of his family are from. The “Nine Dances” included the ceilidh-conjuring “Sheer Joy of it All”, “The Day of Observance” was all sober trombones, and “The Dance of the Bike Ride from Shinanagh Bridge with the Wind at His Back” was just that. Tippett directed from the piano, added the occasional flourish and beamed happily while the brass delivered sonorous warmth and sombre hymnals, angular expressionism and impromptu riffs.
Tippett rounded off his residency with a night of improv featuring vocalist Julie Tippetts and three members of the Elysian Strings – the quartet had performed two Tippett compositions on the opening night. Julie Tippetts ranged from purest-toned folk to mezzo-soprano opera, and from native American chant to sibilant whispers. The strings riffed, plunked and scratched, soared into modern chamber orthodoxy and impressively avoided clutter. And once again, the Tippett magic made an all-improvised event sound pre-ordained.
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