41CD - Julie Tippetts & Martin Archer - Serpentine
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Julie Tippetts, is one of the greatest female vocalists England has ever produced, and over five decades she has produced a small but vital body of work ranging from pop to free improvisation.
My duo with Julie has no desire to repeat itself from album to album. Following on from the poetry and soundscape debut release Ghosts of Gold (2009) and then the complex sprawl of Tales of FiNiN (2011) (both figuring variously in Wire Magazine and Jazzwise best of the year lists), comes the comparatively shorter, stripped down and simplified Serpentine, wherein we revisit (mainly) tonal and rhythmic songforms which enable Julie to explore, at greater length than on our earlier releases, a style of performance at which she naturally excels, and yet which has often been overlooked in favour of her more freeform work of the last 3 or 4 decades. Yes, this is an album of songs, with Julie on powerful rock and soul inspired form throughout.
Lyrically, Julie presents us with images from a teeming menagerie of some of the less lovable examples from the animal world on many of the songs in this collection, as ever we leave the listener to make their own links and interpretations.
We’ve been helped in particular by two absolutely amazing musicians. Pete Fairclough is a writer and bandleader in his own right with many releases to his own name and a CV in the jazz world which is second to none. His willingness to submit to Archer’s unusual studio methods and suggestions is a further testament to his patience and versatility. Gary Houghton plays with the BerlinSchool electronica masters Radio Massacre International, and his searing and soaring contributions both to RMI and to the songs on this CD mark him as a creative player of great beauty and power.
Finally, while I’ve referred to this music and being comparatively simplified, I also consider that some parts of this record are among the most unusual and creative I’ve made, and personally speaking, for me to work in the field of songform is a challenge I increasingly don’t always find any more in more abstract musics.
Julie Tippetts - voice, chimes, amplified doll's house
Martin Archer - electronics, keyboards, woodwind
Pete Fairclough - drums, percussion, washboard
Gary Houghton - lead, rhythm and glissando guitars
Miya - flute : Rosie Brown - co-lead and backing vocals
Peter Sells - bass guitar : Chris Bywater - remake / remodel
Julie Archer - handclaps : Pete Whitfield, Alex Stemp, Paulette Bayley,
Nick Trygstad, Simon Turner - strings
Julie Tippetts and Martin Archer ….. are peerless, fearless musical adventurers. Their new CD Serpentine is a complete carnival of delights, one that opens with a song called River, appropriately enough for this community. It's the third in a series of collaborations between Julie and Martin in the past few years or so, and follows briskly on from last year's extravagant, conceptual, labyrinth-like 2CD set Tales of FiNiN which has been described as "the most rewarding record of recent times". Serpentine is, by comparison with the intricate filigree of FiNiN, positively precise, pop even, if you approach such things from awkward angles with a bit of a sideways squint and a raised eyebrow or two, and only define pop in terms of imaginations running riot.
There are three discrete elements to the wonderful works Julie and Martin come up with. One, naturally, is Julie's voice. She is quite simply the best singer we have. On Serpentine she can ooze thoughtfully; musing, meandering her way through a song in that way which makes people return to Sunset Glow again and again and again. Julie can sing the blues, straight, simmering, smouldering siren-like, and she can burrow and probe her way through a track, intimately exploring every single space that might be overlooked by those without the technique and temerity. And oddly on this, and the other records she's made with Martin, when Julie simply speaks, recites, the effect is even more alarming and affecting.
The second element to celebrate is Martin's musical structures. His background is in jazz and electronics, and these disciplines are drawn upon imaginatively on Serpentine, providing the perfect settings for Julie's singing. This is not easy listening, but it is by no means an alienating, abstract work. There are incongruously, wonderfully, moments when the music veers towards clattering daytime radio pop surge, albeit distorted through smashed fragments of possibility. Highlights on this new record come when Martin uses elements from Sugar Minott's Ghetto-ology Dub to create musical soundscapes that feel dangerous, and as disorientating as being caught in an unexpected, unexpectedly violent storm. Admirers of Adrian Sherwood's classic On-U Sound productions will adore these tracks.
The third part of the equation is Julie's words. And she clearly loves words, and has a way with words, understands the power and beauty of words. Their first collaboration, Ghosts of Gold, was a selection of Julie's poetry placed in striking musical contexts. The second, Tales of FiNiN, was an elaborate saga that revealed itself fantastically, obliquely. Serpentine, by contrast, is almost like a series of short stories. Natural elements feature strongly: rivers, caves, crocodiles, lizards, scorpions, snakes. And it seems as if the songs are occasionally onomatopoeic: Crocodile conjures up that creature's "frozen cunning", Squamata Dance evokes gyrating geckos, and Snake-Bite captures the coiled intent, and so on.
There is nothing new about Julie being a great writer: back in the late '60s she came up with Vauxhall to Lambeth Bridge, which is one of the great London songs, so beautiful, as the singer anonymously wanders along the stretch of the river she knows so well. Julie refuses to dwell on the past, but it has to be acknowledged that in the past 45-odd years no-one else has moved on from that pop milieu to such surprising and challenging places. Scott Walker and Robert Wyatt, perhaps, could be cited, but with Julie's body of work there seems to be more of a sense of stubbornness, which is enormously endearing.
Serpentine is a strange, dramatic and beautiful record, and it's a real treat for anyone searching for new music that possesses a spirit of adventure and which fits in with absolutely nothing else around. It's also beautifully presented in a way that makes buying a CD a great experience. Details matter a lot, which is something the music industry foolishly forgets when wondering why no-one wants to buy its products.
- Kevin Pearce writes about music on his Your Heart Out blog.
The third album from the collaboration between singer / lyricist Julie Tippetts and multi-instrumentalist Martin Archer. Serpentine is a single album with a strong narrative arc (a double theme on animals and deceit), with more strongly rhythm-based music - in other words, a song cycle - experimental songs informed by free improvisation and sound research, but songs still, more so than on the previous two albums. This makes Serpentine the duo's most accessible record, and possibly their most accomplished too. In any case, it makes for a highly enjoyable listen, and I strongly recommend you seek it out - Francois Couture, Monsieur Delire
FOUR STARS - The third and finest recent outing from Julie Tippetts and Martin Archer. It's even billed as their pop album, though this pop is iffbeat and oblique and dipped in dub..... Serpentine follows FiNiN like a welcome book of Alice Munro short stories after Lord of the Rings.... Fans of Sunset Glow will know that back in the mid 1970s she was startlingly strong at the point where song form meets melting point. She still is - Marcus O'Dair, Jazzwise
I would say that this is the third artistic reincarnation of the fascinating vocalist named Julie Tippetts: After a short, but impressive career as Julie Driscoll followed by her limitless symphonic collaboration with husband Keith Tippetts, it is her provocative symbiosis with composer, pianist, saxophonist, clarinetist, arranger and overall tempter Martin Archer that is the most exciting. Signed to the Sheffield based Discus label, their work together began on the album Ghost of Gold, continued on the double album Tales of FiNiN, and is out now on their latest CD entitled Serpentine. All three of their projects to date share something similar in the compositional approach, in the unusual sound and in the demanding experimentation. Yet each album takes on its own unorthodox form that contains new elements and is entirely unique.
On this new album, Archer utilizes a telegraphic rhythmicity, which is skillfully mastered by drummer and percussionist Pete Fairclough. Gary Houghton adds the electronic fireworks, the stormy booms, the collapsing guitars and the alterative sampling which sometimes makes you feel like the floor is about to give way beneath you. The sinister music penetrates you by intertwining itself with the lyrics, wrapping its tendrils around the words. But the lyrics also have the bility to disentangle themselves, swelling up to rise above the music. That being said, the vocals remain restrained when needed, but are nonetheless spectacular because of the strangulated minimalism which permeates them and which once again allows them to be entangled in the music that is bursting forth. This effect is multiplied in two particular instances by the string quintet.
Julie Tippetts voice rises above the various instruments, and circles above our heads. It beseeches us and it fascinates us. Then, as it all calms down, her voice soothes us as she appears to duet with herself. The immutable charisma of the singer carries the scent of tragic fate. Her narrative is a hallucination, an expression of magic. She is ceaselessly tendentious, passionate, and solitudinous. She gives herself up fully and distinctively to the mercy of the lyrics. She commits herself to them and sometimes gives the impression that the story (or experience) she is relating has only just surfaced from her memory. The entire album is conducted thematically; nonetheless, each of the thirteen songs creates a discrete and distinct atmosphere. For example, the fairy-tale like Cave Dwellers presents an enigmatic "once upon a time" theme. It is vocally and instrumentally tantalizing and bewitching- a colourful yet unaffected picture of words whereby the storyteller imitatively narrates with each word, with each syllable - her voice rising lingeringly above the sound of the music.
The thrillingly rhythmic articulation of Refuge is what makes that composition special. In this piece, Archer keeps the singer in absolute isolation, so to speak, before he joins her, thereby creating a dramatic work of art. From an entirely different mold altogether comes the spine tingling hit Stretch that is full of vitality. The singer's voice cascades down from above thunderous stringed instruments. And I could go on and on….This is an album that defies any type of rigidity. It is the antithesis of all obligate pop music. Is it for the demanding? It is for anybody and all who want to discover something new and unusual. - Zdenec Slaby, HISVOICE
This is a disc for the fans of Julie Tippetts who will have appreciated the two discs with Archer but were hoping to hear more of her singing than her poetry. Sprechgesang does still feature in parts, but it’s the singing that prevails. Even so, the songs themselves are ertainly not conventional. Throughout the disc, tracks are distinguished by pervasive electronic sounds, rhythms folded with acoustic noise, curious string and reed sections, adulterated sampling (such as dub by Sugar Minott and Colin Blunstone) accompanied by melodic lines, explored through the voice of the lady herself. In Stretch, her vocals take memorably to the role of soloist, which elsewhere is fulfilled by the sound of the sax (Entry Of The Scarabs) or more often overlaid distorted guitar. - Alessandro Achilli, Musica Jazz
More songs about animals and deceit
When Julie Driscoll stepped out of the intense spotlight of media attention shining upon her after the release of /This Wheel's On Fire/ in 1968, she wanted nothing more to do with what she'd come to regard as a vacuous, exploitative industry. As Julie Tippetts, she's been on a more artistically fulfilling career for over 40 years that's taken her on a fascinating journey away from pop to the outer edges of jazz and improvised music. Yet her third collaboration with multi-instrumentalist Martin Archer is an impressive selection of keenly-sculpted songs. Fiery and passionate, her vocals are a masterclass in precision-guided control with a lean, intelligent delivery. Retaining a richly experimental and ambitious patina, it's nevertheless among the most conventional and easily accessible collection from the vocalist in recent years. Archer frequently drapes Tippetts' vocals in evocative sonic settings and environments. The pared-back intimacy of /Song Spirit/ is accompanied by a subtle halo of electronic shimmering, whilst luscious folds of sampled strings ebb and flow against her silky, yearning during /Subside/. With Radio Massacre International's Gary Houghton's glittering guitar breaks and strident outbursts from drummer Pete Fairclough, /Serpentine/ delivers rewarding material that's imaginative and immensely satisfying. - Sid Smith, PROG
Singolare e denso, densissimo, a tratti ridondante di suoni e suggestioni eterogenee questa terza prova, disconosco le altre due, guidata dalla coppia Julie Tippets e Martin Archer. La prima, conosciuta in passato anche con il nome di Julie Driscroll, nonché moglie del pianista Keith Tippet (noto tra l’altro per la sua presenza alla corte di King Crimson nella sua incarnazione jazz di ‘Lizard’) è una cantante diciamo avant jazz, mentre il secondo è un multi strumentista essenzialmente alle prese con sax ed elettronica varia. L’album è un concept dedicato agli animali, in prevalenza rettili, coleotteri e scorponi e alla natura che li accoglie. Concept reso evidente oltre che dai testi, “Gecko…Gecko…You are like a lost princess. Building walls that blind you. You hide like a forbidden soul. Hoping they won’t find you” canta la Tippets in Squamata Dance, anche dal background strumentale, sovente quasi onomateopetico nel suo rimandare a suoni ambientali di scrosci, cinguettii, ronzii insettiiformi e simili. Il risultato finale è suggestivo, coraggioso, ma anche non di facile assimilazione e leggermente pretenzioso, al confine tra musica e sound art. Un calderone in cui si mescola sound poetry, al quale spesso la cantante si lascia andare, jazz multiforme, echi trip hop e dub, elettronica cacofonica, blues, improvvisazione e anche un certo feeling di rock in opposition. Ostico e non inquadrabile, da qualunque lato si guardi. Sicuramente un disco che merita rispetto per la sua ambizione spregiudicata e che mette le doti eclettiche di ambo i protagonisti fuori discussione: l’inventiva canora della Tippetts e la fantasia strumentale di Archer sono immense. Purtroppo, a mio modesto parere, a volere fare troppo si rischia di strafare e la lunghezza non trascurabile del cd non aiuta molto. C’è poi quest’ambiguità, questo dualismo mai risolto tra sperimentazione pura e voglia di forma canzone che rende abbastanza discontinuo il progetto. Devo segnalare qualche traccia in particolare? Di sicuro l’iniziale River, forse la più pop (ma è un eufemismo) del lotto, con percussioni stratificate, bassi profondissimi, fiati smarriti, vocalizzi lost in translation e cori vagabondi e il bellissimo blues bombastico e impaludato di Snake Bite, i crescenti orchestrali della minacciosa Trust me I’m a doctor. Dal versante più off limits, spicca la preghiera senza peso e in punta di piedi di Song Spirit; quasi un’invocazione al buio tra insetti e fantasmi della foresta. Ha invece un qualcosa di Bjork, Crocodile Tears, graziata da una chitarra psichedelica d’altri tempi. - Marco Paolucci - KATHODIK
Julie Tippetts was, of course, Julie Driscoll, a breathtakingly gifted 60s rock-soul-jazz singer and 'the face of 1968'. Famously, she turned her back on the world of the pop song and has performed under her newer name mainly working with her husband, the pianist-composer Keith Tippett, as a free improvising singer. I wouldn't repeat this (simplified) story of her metamorphosis if it weren't for the fact that Serpentine wriggles back into the world of the song. She approaches this with undiminished verve, with a bluesy inflection in her phrasing, and with harmonic and multivoiced overdubs, but with all the additional wisdom of decades of musical experimentation and with an impressive arsenal of accumulated vocal techniques that she uses sparingly but effectively behind, between and beyond her singing (and speaking) voice. It's simply great to hear a great singer singing (and her voice is still great, as pure as it needs to be, as grainy or wavering as necessity dictates). She has also written the lyrics and much of the music with Martin Archer. Archer provides electronic music, harmonious and dissonant by turns, augmented with others' floating flutes, full-on electric jazz rock guitar, rattling snare, occasional pulsing bass and a tense string section on a couple of tracks. Tippetts plays 'amplified doll's house' but I've not worked out which of the miscellaneous rattling and scratching sounds this might have provided.
Her lyrics (or poems) are mainly about the less-revered beasts of the earth - scarabs, scorpions, geckos, snakes - usually to articulate their uniqueness, and only occasionally (as in 'Crocodile Tears') for metaphorical and humanising purposes. Apart from patches of overwriting, they work well and are printed on the CD packaging (for which Tippetts provided abstracting photos). She mixes speech and singing on several tracks, and switches effortlessly from the rhythms and pitching of one to the other. On 'The Entry of the Scorpions' we experience sinister rustlings as well as the multivoice harmony chorus, 'Here we are', sung with unnerving conviction. Similarly, 'The Entry of the Scarabs' modulates from rhythm and blues phrasing, through to instrumental free jazz sax, floating organ sounds, a bit of Tippetts' scatting, before being told the creatures 'left weals like whipping', leading into another multitracked chorus, 'Here they come!' against a shimmering electronica background. There they went. Follow. - Robert Sheppard - STRIDE
Through the years, Julie Tippetts has been largely ignored in the world of female improvising jazz influenced vocal poets, but perhaps this effort will elevate her within the ranks of Annette Peacock, Jay Clayton and Lisa Sokolov.
Her ideas are always fresh, daring, on the edge and unique, without being abrasive, perfectly cogent, and understandable. Now there is some music with cold blooded lyrics as in “Crocodile,” underground, industrial funky sounds during “Entry Of The Scarabs” and throbbing, multi- tracked vocals on “Snake Bite,” but it is that ability to turn the corner and leave the previous track behind that keeps you listening.
Her association with rock music and the electric guitar work of Archer sets her apart from the pure jazz influenced singers of her generation. With her European background, the lovely string section added onto “Stretch” further illustrates her individuality.
Her use of provocative titles, a subterranean form of sexuality, and the fact that Tippetts is in fine vocal form, makes this project an individual triumph, not to mention that you can hear an amplified doll’s house as an instrument. Tippetts is a special artist, therefore we should recommend this only to those who know her previous work.
Having said that, if she took any one of these varied singular concepts and made it into a full blown recording (I’d like to hear an all strings project) it might be her magnum opus. - Michael G. Nastos,CADENCE
Julie Tippetts & Martin Archer Serpentine UK DISCUS 41CD (2012) Prior to hearing this album, I knew of Julie Tippetts only via her past association with husband Keith Tippett’s seminal 1970s Centipede project. (Confusingly, she uses what is the original spelling of Tippett’s name.) I hadn’t realised she was also the Julie Driscoll who, under that maiden-name, had hits in the 1960s, notably a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Wheels on Fire”. Indeed, Tippetts’ biography has a certain fascination in its own right, with connections to luminaries Robert Wyatt and Carla Bley, giants of experimental vocal work like Phil Minton and Maggie Nichols, and even to Rod Stewart, Micky Dolenz and comedian Ade Edmondson. Archer‘s own tastes are similarly catholic; drawing from an original involvement in Free Jazz through to later experimentation with synthesisers and electronics, vocal music, and even Punk. His own Discus label links him directly with mainstays of the improv scene, such as Chris Cutler, Mick Beck, Charlie Collins and Paul Hession. Tippetts and Archer began their formal association in 2001, working with writer Geraldine Monk on the album Angel High Wires. Since then, there has been a steady stream of releases by the two, the latest being this one, 2012?s Serpentine.
With that title strongly to the fore, the aquatic symbolism runs deep here, and most everything about this album coheres to the submarine. There are watery expositions on rivers and rain, on aquatic animals – both actual and imagined – and much oozing, pumping, drowning and such. The prose is weighted in this way towards passages of intricate cinematic description, sometimes ethereal in tone, sometimes more stridently delivered, even frightening so, and on occasion tough-sounding; with the narrative itself characteristically assuming a gothic, lost in the forest wide-eyed Alice feel, once or twice a little purple at the edges. Tippetts has a truly rich, versatile voice, and is able to effortlessly flit between the soulful and the gospel-esque, onto staccato scat and spooky spoken word. The same liking for imagery, theatricality and melodrama is carried through into her scant instrumentation; which includes such a thing as an amplified doll’s house.
Archer and a small band of guest musicians handle the bulk of the music; offering a wide-range of moods and attitudes. I hear shades of Portishead and Broadcast; at times, I was put in mind of things like “Horse Latitudes” by The Doors. There are, too, arresting flashes of squonky sax, perhaps nearest to John Surman, as well as Fusion-esque guitar, a few hints at Rockabilly and Dub, some Indie Rock stylings. Such grooves strategically and intelligently punctuate Tippetts’ introspection, offering sites of tension and release, adding to the drama. Archer’s studio-craft is superb throughout.
The overall effect for this listener is of a kind of drowse in the very best sense. The work as a totality is successfully immersive, dense, contemplative; one is invited into a discrete, private world, both lyrically and in terms of its soundcapes. Tippetts and Archer have, of course, a laudable, hard-won wealth of experience to pull upon between them. This isn’t the Scott Walker of Tilt through to Bish Bosch, nor is it the David Sylvian of Manafon. But it likely comes from something of the same place, in wrestling with the self-same compositional, in fact generational and psychological, challenge of how to make, as it were, grown-up Pop music. The intentioned avant-gardism of Walker is truly out there, of course; and thus in that sense it is effectively delimited. Tippetts and Archer tread a finer line in patronising the song-form more keenly, and this results in something like where Pop could have ended up if the commitment to progress and experimentation hadn’t been abandoned. A follow-up, Vestigium, is to be released later this year. - Anthony Donovan, SOUND PROJECTOR
Unusual by any standards, this is a collection of extended songs in very open form. Nothing is standard; the instrumentation is customised for each song and mixes electronic, processed, acoustic and mechanical means in a far from obvious way. There's an admirable clarity to the sound throughout, even when at maximum density. No carpets of sound, but careful and constantly evolving arrangements built around a wealth of point detail. Some great playing, tightly contained, and some ingenious vocal harmonising. Minimal but not repetitive. You could call this experimental; it's certainly bold and fully grasped . marches to its own drummer. Full texts included. - ReR
A 2012 release from the fearless sonic explorers sees their muse pack kit for all weathers, as no-one knows where they're headed. Following the album title, Serpentine is sinuous and slinky. Completely unconventional in approach, the pair show a spirit of adventure that pushes the music into unchartered waters. For the most part it works, as Martin's combination of electronica, found sounds, rhythms and ethereal instrumentation weaves a Gordian Knot with Julie's strong voice to form an indefinable whole. Another one that rewards repeated listens. You will most likely not "get" it first time round. - ROGER TRENWITH, ASTOUNDED BY SOUND