Fairclough & Keith Tippett
Silk : An Evening With Keith Tippett & Peter Fairclough
Wild Silk (ASC CD8) reviews
appeared almost unannounced on ASC in 1996, and is now being re-launched
on the same label, preceding a tour by the duo later this year. Fairclough
– whose drumming has always featured a strong concept –
is also a composer and band-leader who’s worked in a variety of
contexts from Mike Westbrook to Paul Dunmall. It was the first time
he and Keith had played together. As Fairclough explains it, “Keith
and I both said we would turn up at the studio with some pieces. But
the nearer it got, the less confident I was about mine. So at the studio
Keith said ‘Shall we improvise?’ And we did”. What
they played is what you hear, except for three similar-sounding pieces
where the piano and percussion parts were recorded separately.
Keith Tippett is another pianist with a unique musical perspective, and his latest recording - a collaboration with percussionist Peter Fairclough - is a further demonstration of his amazing ability to come up with new ideas. "Wild Silk"(ASC CD8) is a consistently absorbing set of duets, with both players exploring the full emotional and dynamic range of a variety of percussion instruments. I suspect that this is one of those records which will stay fresh in the mind long after many more routine sessions have been forgotten—Pete Martin, Jazz UK
Keith Tippett, a dominant figure in British free-jazz and improv piano-playing for over three decades, never stops surprising even listeners familiar with his past. This duo with the former Mike Westbrook drummer Peter Fairclough recently toured the UK, intriguing audiences with its balances of delicacy and force, the alertness of the partners attention to each other, and what was for many a revelation in the scope of Fairclough’s skills as a percussionist. Some of the music (including perhaps unwisely the opening track) suggests the kind of very spacious, minimally-active free-jazz that can induce the occasional fidget, but the insistent low-register “Under Thunder” and the jazzy, Latin-flavoured “Sketch for Gary” are high points, and almost all the music represents jazz-motivated improv at its most selflessly, atmospherically intelligent—John Fordham, Jazz UK (Jan/Feb 2002)
Englishness! That’s what this record speaks of – English pastoral scenes and values. Not in any silly “John Major, back to basics” way but certainly to a set of beliefs and ideas at which New Labour would bridle and bristle. We’re talking Old Albion, Ned Ludd, Robert Owen and dear old Will Cobbett.
There are people who think that Keith Tippett is a bit of a crank. Others believe he’s one of the most important artists this country has produced and I have to confess I’m definitely in this camp. Anyone who can encompass the epic chaotic majesty of Centipede and the even better Ark big bands, the collective group Mujician, formal contemporary composition and exquisite little miniatures such as this is a rare, rare find indeed.
This album was originally released in 1996 and for those of you that like to dabble in improvised music, I can tell you that this is pretty approachable stuff. Peter Fairclough, the long-term occupant of the drum chair in Mike Westbrook’s groups, is at least the equal partner here. He’s a musician who’s just as capable of swinging outrageously or digging into a groove or delivering splashes and washes of abstract colour and light. A sadly underrated player, here he’s just as often the one exploring the margins as he is the one holding the performance together. Both he and Tippett are remarkably lyrical players and this music is both deeply emotional and intelligent.
“Wild Silk”, the title track is a thing of beauty – thoughtful, reflective and tightly structured. But to dare to follow it with the near-bop of “Sketch for Gary”, is a master stroke and then to follow that with “Casting The Net” borders on the sublime. Elsewhere, “In The Glade Of The Woodstone Bird” hints at something more exotic – China, perhaps, but more the one depicted on Willow Pattern rather than Cathay itself.
The last track is “Humble” in name if not in nature. The title’s a good one because the piece seems to hang in the air like an apology. It’s a quiet, almost shy close to a quite special album. The sleeve features a quote from Keith Tippett –“May music never just become another way of making money.” It’s nice to be reminded of things that you sometimes forget as you get older, fatter and more set in your ways. That’s what I mean by old values.
E.F. Schumacher was once asked how it felt to be called a “crank”. The alternative technology guru replied – “Oh, I never mind. A crank is a wonderful tool. It doesn’t pollute and what’s more it creates revolutions.” Four stars because small is beautiful—**** Duncan Heining, Jazzwise Magazine, October 2001
A beautifully recorded and astonishingly composed sounding series of meditative improvisations for percussion and piano. By playing the piano from the inside as well as the outside, Tippett creates a huge range of textural effects. First released in 1996, and made available again to coincide with the duo’s tour in October, this is one of the best British jazz records of the last decade—**** Phil Johnson, Independent on Sunday, 30 September, 2001
More good stuff
from this small label. Percussionist Fairclough is best known for his
work with the Westbrook Band but is moving further into the free atmospheric
zone where Tippett has long been resident. Together they make intelligent,
fairly abstract music, full of space, scraping sounds, rattling and
Tippett releases are not the commonest of events and he certainly is an uncommon pianist: perhaps this gives new meanings to the pursuit of Rare Music. Fairclough is a percussionist and drummer - to these ears a more reflective and almost orchestral player than the high-energy impro drummers you might associate - and the combination is a highly fruitful one: both sets of instruments (Tippett plays some percussion, zither and plastic pan-pipes too) cover the entire tonal spectrum, can be abstract of pitch or tuned, produce notes or patterns of fully variable duration.
If I seem forced into music textbook language, it's only to try to do justice to the enormous possibilities of KT's music as soloist or collaborator. There's nothing academic about the musical product if you don't wish to analyse it; it is by turns beautiful, exciting, reflective, exhilarating, just like any other great music, and the musicians work together and apart like any partnership (improvisation or not), contrasting, complementing, developing each other's ideas and leaving space for the other to develop.
If you've ever thrilled to Tippett in action, if you yearn sometimes after a jazz where theme/chorus/solo are not the exclusive building blocks, if you like to feel challenged but not intimidated, if you fancy a walk around the edges of harmony, rhythmic patterning and instrumental technique, then this is a disc you should hear. If not, I wonder what jazz does for you at all— Steve Henwood, Venue, 5–19 July, 1996
Subscribe to our free newsletter for all the latest information about this project, other MYOM artists and related cultural gossip and news.