Thursday, May 09, 2013

Review: Keith Tippett at the Cafe Oto, April 30th, 2013...

Filling up pretty quickly, there was an expectant buzz in the room – whatever the reason(s), Keith Tippett rarely plays in town so this was a special occasion. For myself, I'd made the haul from God's Little Acre to City Road Travelodge (grab the bus over the road to Dalston and back at last knockings, an easy move) and was looking forward to seeing one of my alltime favourite musicians up close in a sympatico joint like the Cafe Oto.  Especially one equipped with a good piano. (My favourite club in the UK, anyway, puts on the stuff I like, wish I could get there more often).

Tippett, 66 years old and looking in good nick, a stocky man with a fine head of hair and still flaunting mutton-chop sidewhiskers that give him the air of a country squire, took his seat at the piano. Commenced with short bass runs, probing opening gambits, the piano lid raised and illuminated to mirror the interior, the objects he uses to augment/distort the acoustics clearly seen, bouncing and vibrating on/off the strings, offering a fascinating visual counterpoint to the music for those with a good sight line. A couple of high treble splashes for accent, some scampers through the middle, a wodge of thickly voiced chords, muffled as if emerging from a dense fog. Already, a wide variety of colours being laid out.
The performance unfolds... using various objects to damp and mess with the strings, he sets up repeating figures that slowly evolve, informed by strong rhythms, one moment a flickering pattern high up, like a stick rattled across a bicycle wheel, then a roaring low register storm. The pounding bass he is famous for is oddly reminiscent of Erroll Garner's left hand take on strumming guitar chording, cranked up high, savage treatments that fire off long resonating waves of overtones to overwhelm the air under the low ceiling. At one point this became a mournful lament that seemed to dip into 'Danny Boy' but maybe I misheard – although there is a waggish side to Mr Tippett. Who gave one unbroken piece in the first half (as he did in the second) that unfolded and spun out into many areas of sonics and genres, quietly coming to rest – to rapturous applause. The pianist looked pleasantly surprised at this affectionate response, a man with no side to him, as the old saying goes.

Second half started out with rattles and clunks, a toy being flicked across the open strings to give odd, dry little notes. Speculations at the high end of the joanna. Four square march rhythms, a thump thump to flick syncopations across, melodies refracted through the mechanical interference to give strange timbres, hints of East-European (or further East) folk melodies almost, Balkans to Gamelan and back. A couple of sudden left turns with sharp funky soul jazz phrases that would not have been out of place in a Bobby Timmons solo circa 1960. Longer cascades of notes that refer back to the complex linearities of the modern jazz traditions but keep on going through the remapped territory to spaces beyond. Tippett has evolved a seamless integration of classic and extended techniques, conventional keyboard yoked to internal disruptions. Added to the inclusive nature of his musical vision, this helps to create a new opened field where ghosts of boogie woogie in some of those loping bass figures tread towards complex note clusters and shifting timbres, spinning off into simple triadic movements, evolving and folding into denser complications. The scrapings, pluckings and distortions offering a ground on which he can pivot at will, where melodic/harmonic/rhythmic developments, however abrupt in their sudden occurrence, can occur without too clunky a transition, offering a dynamic, flexible but subtle binding of the whole. He creates an improvisational area where historical genre time is collapsed into the now, each discrete unit resolving quickly into that wider, deeper flow where foreground is background and the reverse and the distinctions probably irrelevant anyway.
Towards the end he produced a music box, tinkling out what sounded like 'The Godfather' theme - something he used on his Purcell Room concert a couple of years back, a fragile, almost plaintive counterpoint to the slowly ebbing close.  And funny, too...

Over the years, he has built up his techniques to offer a staggering diversity of sounds and surprises (to riff obliquely off Whitney Balliett ). He has always been musically ambitious and open-eared: on the train back I wrote and underlined, somewhat cryptically, 'Generosity' and that may well have been the word to describe the night. The audience, generous in their enthusiasm for a unique talent gave up a long and warm burst of applause, the artist having displayed his generosity of imagination and technique for that audience to savour. A superb gig. Hopefully he will return soon... (And a request to the Oto: what about Mike Westbrook, another great musician, spotted rarely these days?).

Here's a very brief vid of him in solo action a few years ago...  And a couple of reviews, here and here, Financial Times and London Jazz News, respectively.

Keith takes a bow through the murk of a crap photo from my phone...

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