Red Eye

“First Weaving” is a long composition by Keith Tippett commissioned by BBC Radio 3 and the Bath International Music Festival and recorded at Le Mans Jazz Festival in 1998. It was originally intended as a studio production, but this never came about due to lack of funding, causing the piece to become what the liners call an “underground classic”. The Tapestry Orchestra is a stellar gathering of illustrious names in the vein of Tippett’s previous big bands like Centipede and Ark, including long-standing companions like Mark Charig, Paul Rutherford, Larry Stabbins, Elton Dean, Maggie Nicols, Louis Moholo – and of course Julie Tippetts – and more recent artistic partners such as Pino Minafra, Paul Dunmall, Vivien Ellis and Paul Rogers. Together, they achieve an impressive unity of intent. The version of “First Weaving” here is divided into seven “Threads” spread across two CDs, and it features all the characteristic elements of Tippett’s music, first and foremost the evident liberties that each performer is granted within the leader’s arrangements. “Third Thread”, for instance, is an unusual example of “free jazz with a modicum of rules”, a fiery, yet well regulated chaos in which the three tenors – no, not those three tenors.. Dunmall, Stabbins and Simon Picard – exchange burning darts and raging lines while the vocalists struggle to be heard. When the dust settles, the centre of gravity has shifted towards a mixture of enlightened sorrow and severe lyricism familiar from certain past episodes of English jazz (comparisons with Chris McGregor’s Brotherhood of Breath and Dedication Orchestra are inevitable). On the other hand, the duet between Charig’s cornet and Rutherford’s trombone in “Fourth Thread” is a spectacularly exclamatory appetizer for a fabulous moment of orchestral romanticism, a slow swing that would melt anyone’s heart, with a sensitive solo by Gianluigi Trovesi on alto sax punctuated by Tippett’s sparse accompaniment. Nicols, Tippetts and Ellis are the main actors in “Fifth Thread”, first in an intense chorale then with dissonant lullabies over a basis of musical boxes, until, in “Sixth Thread”, the music develops into a cross between Scottish marching band and Archie Shepp-like eruption with a furious solo by Minafra on trumpet and megaphone that sounds like Sugarcane Harris on Hot Rats, before monumental riffs and unison hymns emerge to give structure to the whole maelstrom. Those who love Keith Tippett’s work have just found another reason to be proud; Live At Le Mans is exactly what we expected from a man whose motto is “may music never just become another way of making money”. Herbie Hancock and Keith Jarrett would surely approve.. wouldn’t they?

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