Mujician Solo IV - Live In Piacenza
Keith Tippett: Steinway Grand Piano
about Keith Tippett
Keith Tippett is one of the most important European jazz musicians in the last 40 years. The extent of his work is vast, as a soloist, composer, arranger,collective improviser and band leader. For me, he is the undisputed father-figure of postmodern jazz piano this side of the Atlantic. The only slight problematic hick-up in such a statement is the word ‘jazz’. Here I am using the j-word to describe a music extending way, way, way outside and beyond the bounds of music rooted in the great American moment. We are not dealing with the blue of blues, rather with a cut of colour abstracted through a prism of pluralities. Keith Tippett has created and fashioned a form of spontaneous compositionthat the definitive Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD (Cook/Morton), referring to the original three 1980’s Mujician recordings on the FMP label, called “amongthe most self-consistent and beautiful solo improvisations of the decade and asignificant reprogramming of the language of piano.”
The road to Piacenza and the recording of ‘Mujician Solo IV’ did not actually begin with the solo Mujician trilogy, nor did it end with them. The first solo KeithTippett recording, ‘The Unlonely Raindancer’, was produced during a 1979 Netherlands tour, two years prior to ‘Mujician I’. Following the classic ‘MujicianIII (August Air)’ in 1986, solo recordings began to take on individual names. By1988 the title ‘Mujician’ had begun to be used by the groundbreaking quartetKeith Tippett established with sax player Paul Dunmall, bassist Paul Rogers andthe ex-Tubby Hayes drummer Tony Levin. This unique band continued to record and evolve over the next two decades until Tony Levin’s death in 2011.
During the 1990’s Keith Tippett made three key solo recordings,‘The Dartington Concert’ (1990), ‘Une Croix Dans L’Ocean’ (1994), and until now, my all time favourite,‘Friday the 13th’ (1997). Recorded in Japan byNippon Rediffusion, the sheer size of the sound and delivery of the chromatics coming off, what amounts to an acoustic hammered harp under constant manipulation by the pianist from within the chamber of the grand piano, signals a culmination of what this great exploratory inventor of musics was seeking from these three solo recitals. In my opinion, the unlucky-for-some-‘Friday’ is a profound moment in a career that has touched the Dharma more than once.
Yet ‘Friday the 13th’ is fifteen years away from this new January 2012 performance - ‘Mujician Solo IV Live In Piacenza’, recorded at the Conservatorio, Nicolini in Italy. The Japaneserecording clearly contains the antecedents for what was to happen in Italy over a decade later; an outpouring of the impromptu that is so utterly concentrated, tension and release spring back and forth not only between Tippett and his chosen instrument but also between the audience and the performer. ‘Mujician Solo IV’ is the work of a mature maestro at the height of his powers, expressed both in the depth of his playing and in his ability to establish an almost soulful connectionwith the people who came to listen. The soul is wherever you may find it. Throughout ‘Mujician Solo IV’ there are many identifiable Keith Tippett signature-signs. Call themtrademarks, track trails, messages, imprints, autographs of arrival and departure. Thecreative process inscribed and instantly categorised by the musician/mujician as surelyas DNA; a honing process of an art form designed over four decades. A barely shaken maraca but shaken nonetheless, a child’s musical box running out of time. No voltage of electricity, simply pebbles and woodblocks placed to literally dance on wires with all the precision of a man who has tracked his own trail across the continent of music. Through rapid ostinati, like the cloudburst from a storm, via melodies so light it is impossible that they live on paper, he continues to follow the runes of his own making. This piano is not prepared, not ‘Caged’, it is an open, purposeful place. However something else ispresent at this Piacenza concert, something which absolutely nails the importance ofthis new release. ‘Mujician Solo IV’ is not simply a restating of all those known qualities and attributes. This special solo recording is the current thesis; and it is an organic masterpiece. It contains all the implications of the years between the original three solo ‘Mujician’ recordings through to the present. During that period I have attended numerous Keith Tippett concerts, none of which ever surfaced on disk. Max Marchinihad the good sense to record the Piacenza Conservatorio performance.
This is Keith Tippett at 64, hugely influential yet still a mysterious figure; alone, noneof his compatriots past or present stand beside him. He is a man facing the implications of his own singular gifts, touching the pitch of night as well as daylight abroad. Fifteenyears previously in his solo recital in Japan he had quoted from his own composition‘Dedicated To Mingus’, seven years before that at the end of his solo gig in DartingtonhehadliterallysunganelegytohisoldfriendDuduPukwanaintothebowelsofapiano once owned by the Polish composer Paderewski. In Piacenza 2012 all that is behind him. At one point, roughly two thirds of the way through ‘Mujician Solo IV’, Keith Tippettdraws from an even deeper well. Before Charles Mingus, before Dudu Pukwana, beforehis own daughter Inca, who as a child had come up with the word ‘Mujician’ to describeher father, before Kenny Ball’s trumpet blew ‘Midnight In Moscow’ on the wireless in the family home in Bristol, before all the rest of the rest, was the ‘Londonderry Air’. It is as if the years suddenly shift back to the beginning of things. And at Piacenza that shreddedstrand of melody rises like a wave from the sea of consciousness only to recede as time takes time away.
In 1998 when I wrote the liner notes for the ‘Mujician I & II’ CD re-release, I describedthe function of the Tippett piano as: “Tuned percussion to describe the possibilities of not just the now, but that long evolving look into eternity.” Truly, as I write these linernotes and listen to my old friend’s new solo recording from 2012 I am yet again touched by the gravitas of his ‘execution’. The word has more than one meaning. Keith Tippett chooses life.
Written by Steve Day, 2015: www.stevedaywordsandmusic.co.uk