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


Steve Day.


On my wall is a big blue poster featuring the photograph from the first Keith Tippett solo excursion for FMP, the original "Mujician" recorded in 1981. Mr. Tippett's two hands are poised over the bottom end of the keyboard in a way that enables me to imagine the ostinati even before my ears get to its great density. It's a good few years since I got the poster, given to me by the man himself, even longer ago since I bought the record. Fortunately before we are all tipped into the new millennium, FMP have chosen to re-release the first two "Mujicians" on CD; my records need pop and hiss no more.

Keith Tippett is the pianist with wings. There is no fear of flying, he is the one who is going to take you there; and there and just, just there. Keith Tippett is, to my mind, a member of a select group of musicians, one of the rare ones. His music is of such originality that it serves no purpose in mentioning other pianists for comparison. Of course people do link Mr. Tippett's name to other pianists. Anyone who cares to study the FMP catalogue does not need to be a detective to make pertinent connections. Without taking one note away from his peers, or his mentors, Keith Tippett literally reaches into the piano in a way that is of his own making. It is an over used word, but in this case inescapedly true, this man is an originator. A better term was given to him by his daughter Inca - "Mujician ".

Although the music on these recordings is improvised straight out of the head and through the fingers, what we are listening to is orchestrated hairs breath composing. A glance back through Keith Tippett's background and career reveals a story of how one man becomes both musician and magician.

Keith Graham Tippett was brought up in Southmead, a suburban community of red brick housing to the north of Bristol in the West of England. In the late 50's and 60's Southmead was not the obvious place for a musician who is going to turn the art of piano playing inside out. Music is where you find it. In brass bands with your brothers, in church music at St Thomas Becket The Martyr, in be-bop and traditional jazz. 1967 became the pivotal year. Aged twenty and already a pianist with something to say, he was awarded a scholarship to the Barry Summer School Jazz Course in Wales. It changed everything. He met Elton Dean, Nick Evans and Marc Charig who were to play a crucial role in helping to shape Mr. Tippett's music.

Within three years the 50 piece orchestra Centipede had been formed and took to the road with the massive work "Septober Energy" (RCA). Other large ensemble pieces have followed over the years. In 1978 Keith Tippett's Ark, consisting of 22 members, structured as a series of doubles, produced the exquisitely detailed "Frames" (Ogun). The 90's have seen his crucial involvement with the Dedication Orchestra, a vibrant swaggering piece of big band rumble honouring both the birth of a new South Africa and the demise of the majority of the key members of the legendary Blue Notes, exiled at the height of apartheid. In 1997 Keith Tippett formed Tapestry, another large orchestra, which to date has gone unrecorded. At the heart of Tapestry are Paul Dunmall, Paul Rogers and Tony Levin who, together with Keith Tippett, make up the classic quartet named after the solo recordings made for FMP in the 80's.

While all the large scale ensembles have produced music of incredible breadth, superficially at least they differ considerably from the concept of the solo pianist, represented by this CD. In fact, in my opinion the difference is marginal. The three "Mujicians" recorded for FMP represent an œuvre that has begun to increase to the point where Keith Tippett's discography now includes solo recordings from Germany, England, Canada and Japan. It becomes clear that what is on offer is a one man orchestral vision. The piano in his hands is not a single instrument, instead it represents a source box wired with velvet hammers. Tuned percussion to describe the possibilities of not just the now, but that long evolving look into eternity.

The re-releasing of the two original "Mujicians" is important. They document part of the start of Keith Tippett as the solo orchestra, or as he describes it elsewhere, "the unlonely raindancer". True dancers don't fall down. Anyone approaching Mujician I and II for the first time with knowledge of the later work, will recognise the music for what it is, embryonic of what was to come, but nevertheless fully formed of the moment. Ideally the three "Mujicians" should be heard as one thematic work.

Although the photograph from my big blue poster was taken in 1981, Keith Tippett has changed little to look at. Go hear him play tomorrow and you would recognise the man. You would recognise the music too. In the end though all things alter, and here the changes are as subtle as the seasons. Keith Tippett as I said, is the pianist with wings. Fear of flying? No, I don't think so.

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