FMP/FREE MUSIC PRODUCTION - An Edition of Improvised Music 1989-2004


Willi Kellers


It's actually pretty uninteresting that a musician should write the liner notes to a CD - or should even be allowed to - are there no critics anymore doing this job - have they given up, maybe, buck up you colleagues of the writers' community, to new pastures! - Be that as it may...

Our singer Julie's history is as world star of pop music, as we all know, and don't want to hear anymore; and my own ears were used to her voice, because she accompanied me through my 'wildest years' - a typical youth in a German small town. When I started playing with Julie I was therefore a little bit trapped and inhibited by clichés about her work. But when our combined work of improvising began, I noticed that what I had seen as a cliché before had nothing, really nothing, to do with her music, but with my ears: that was where the clichés were hiding pit!

Newspaper critics writing about the Berlin Jazz days pulled further clichés out of the most obscure orifices - songs of the Eskimos, of the Soumi (Laplanders), etc. These formal descriptions may be flattering, but they can only paraphrase Julie Tippet's music, her art of singing, not describe it, which incidentally also applies to me at this point, so I can't and therefore won't try.

When we are playing I can feel a kind of harmony of colours - soundscapes and moods - counterpointed by an ecstatic serial type of playing, piano and drum sound melt together. When the flow of the music eases off, the hush is deeper - goes further, this ecstasy is richer, more full of colour than ever.

I think of my flat in Cologne, the WDR television team in the living room; theme of the event: 'Julie the popstar - today and yesterday'. And yet another trap, a cliché from the other side. With the camera running the team asks: 'And you just get on stage and play? How do you do it?' And again our - as I see it sympathetic muttering - as a kind of answer from our side - and this time we tried to get as close to the truth as possible - is it a trick? - trying to describe our feelings to the audience: "We play for but not against ourselves!" Some colleagues find the concert too 'jazzy' - too 'poppy' - too much like folk - too, I don't know what, but well played, we are assured!

In order to remain sincere, a woman or a man can only improvise out of her/his own history, with the memories (experiences?) which have been planted in her/his body, otherwise our music doesn't work.
No speculative playing, impossible to leave things out.
This is the freedom of this trio.
The announcer of the Cologne Jazzhausfestival asked what kind of music we play - European Jazz? Improvised Music? Avant-garde? Contemporary Music? (which one should have that little bit extra?) - at least three answers - per lady and gentleman - and we go on stage.

Somebody will have put our answers in a little box, and in 200 years tell us all about it.

"I hate egoists", - my comment to Keith after the Nickelsdorf Festival. Am I a victim of my own clichés,- is there really a battle? Keith is a wonderful soloist, but I lay out, there is too much information, the music does not hang together in the atmosphere, it is congested.
The playing of this trio is different, more real and simpler than just a swift notion!

The acoustic in the Leipzig town hall is very resonant. Keith is playing clusters, he tremoloes, he plays rhythms, the piano strings seem to tumble over each other.
"Did you hear the choir?"
For me a new kind of music develops, out of sounds, and also out of feelings. - This strange harmony, which is characteristic of this trio, is in the air, it creeps into my drums, scratches, scrapes and adheres to them.
A simple accent flies, catapults into a different world.
Julie and Keith look at me, there is a silence, but the music continues in our heads and in our hearts.

The garden in Wotton-under-Edge is big. I am on tour in England with Hannes Bauer and Alex Maguire. A stop off after a gig at "Band on the wall".
Everything seems bigger at the Tippets, the garden, the friendship, the warmth - and also something of a consequence for the rest of our lives - (we die for it). -

In the physical sense, I am bigger than both of them, but sometimes I feel 'tiny' by comparison with these wonderful colleagues.

At a party in Leeds this 'well-known' critic asks: (what do I think of my colleagues)? "I've never listened to them, so I can't say", I said to the man from the provinces, who looks at me in amazement.

During a concert, sitting in my seat, I try to, and manage to listen to things and criticise, but not when I'm right up to my neck in it on stage and have to conquer the world! - or the collective moment of playing doesn't leave the space for this kind of critical listening.
It's also an indication of how deeply I am trapped and inhibited by the sound world of this trio when we are playing.

It's complicated - the Plinky Plonks hate Keith, they love Julie - and with me they're not quite sure. Plinky Plonks the friends and colleagues of Improvised Music, who, in their improvising have consciously committed themselves to contemporary music, with all its limitations, ad infinitum.

Again, my favourite drummer Milford Graves, hates New Music and says, that all the creative colleagues - and he means improvisers and jazz musicians - have got more to say than all the 'desk top' adventurers put together. Personally, I cannot share any point of view, which endorses such levels other than good or bad music.

Actually the trio is not really at home in any particular 'camp'! That Improvisation should take a particular line, in my opinion, seems to be treachery. Often, Keith starts his improvisation with a major chord, I think he likes that, or he starts with a low tremolo. He plays trills at the top register of the piano, which sounds like bricks cascading down on to the building site and the concert starts.

By actually living with this music - and this is something totally different from 'listening to and then reacting' - I cannot see it as anything like 'Kitsch' (as it was described by one of the critics, or was it the other one) I have got to know Julie's bluesy rasping lower registers (description and cliché!), and even her elaborate melodic lines, often dismissed as 'folklore stuff'.
And since I learned that 'Kitsch' means, that the contents sublimates itself to the form, even if that was so, I could go along with it, and would joyfully wipe a tear from my drumstick.

The Tippets have done what every musician, male and female, seems to dream of: they have given up a career in the commercial sense, and that is exactly what makes them so interesting and outstanding in the way they deal with their material.

With improvisation, it is all about the material that can be made available. In almost every concert we do, Julie, Keith and I see an extension of this musical material, as individual musicians but, most of all, as an integrated trio.

My friend, Phil Minton, thinks that a WDR interviewer actually asked the right question, that Julie should continue to work using her world famous maiden name, so that we really can hear, how a 'star' can develop.

Times have become tougher, there is enough advice about, and helplessness, and we hope, that none of us will have to drift off into a different musical genre just in order to support our families. The economic crises in our home countries, England and Germany, have contributed to the fact that, over the last period we have had fewer possibilities of working together.

This must change, once again, because, as we have felt during the many concerts and festivals, people want to listen to our music, even need it, as some listeners have said. We have experienced many times, that our work, if promoters and managers give us the chance, is well received and loved by the audience.

Every 5 years or so, we meet younger, additional, new listeners at our concerts.
It is getting more difficult to work on an acceptable level, there is a lack of new usable ideas and reaching new sections of the public is difficult.

There is a lack of courage on all sides - and this has to do with the state of our society, not with our music! - what is missing - and I don't only mean just for this trio - is something like a 'middle class' lobby, which other performing colleagues, like those from the theatre or the 'classics' have. Maybe we are the rats fleeing the sinking ship - in order to reach new shores?

Translation: Isabel Seeberg & Paul Lytton

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