81CD - Keith Tippett - The Unlonely Raindancer
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A re-issue of Keith's first solo piano double LP from 1980, originally released on the Universal Productions label.
The Unlonely Raindancer is undoubtedly a beginning, it is also an enigma. More than its means. The seminal first solo album by Keith Tippett released by Universal Productions in 1980 is a live recording from the previous year’s short tour of the Netherlands. The audience applause was edited out, leaving the listener with the intensity of one lone musician literally improvising into composition.
The word ‘unlonely’ could be described as uneven grammatically, but given nuance by juxtaposing the reality of a man ‘on the road’ vs no family or friends to accompany him (except producer, engineer and driver Rob Sötemann). The title of track 3, Thank God For My Wife And Children bears witness to the yin and yang of loneliness turned under, celebrating being ‘unlonely’. Forty years on, it returns as a circle dance of choreography; in 2016 Discus Music released Keith Tippett Octet’s The Nine Dances Of Patrick O’Gonogon.
Mr Tippett recently told me he believes Raindancer “set the template” for all his later solo performances. The two Tortworth Oak performances are probably the most explicit evidence. The 1980’s trilogy of lone Mujician performances are classics within his portfolio. They were followed by three other key solo sessions, The Dartington Concert (1990), Une Croix Dans L’Ocean (1994) and the ‘jazz art’ wonder that is Friday the 13th (1997). Then came 2012’s poignant, Mujician Solo IV Live In Piacenza.
Aspects of all these recordings have their roots in what took place on that ‘unlonely’ Netherlands tour in 1979. No money to pay for his usual sidekicks, instead a road trip into Europe where Keith Tippett connected with the solo strength of his own psyche (or if you prefer - soul). For any artist/musician who takes that journey it’s a distance longer than any list of one nite-stands. Ride the speed of The Muted Melody; discovery is dizzy.
Thinking back I must have bought my double vinyl copy of The Unlonely Raindancer around the end of 1980. Trying to recapture that first earful forty years on is not easy. In the preceding decades I’ve travelled to many concerts, hung in on the recordings, watched as well as listened to the Dancer. Now I steer the ears to a unique miniature, The Pool. Under five minutes, it was the first track on the final side of the double LP. I distinctly remember every time the track completed taking up the hi-fi arm and placing it back on the edge of black vinyl. I couldn’t let it pass, something to do with the lyrical repetition being periodically bombed at that deep bottom end. Listening again, it still holds a terrible beauty for me and why I believe it is important that Martin Archer has now produced Raindancer in a digital format.
The Unlonely Raindancer is not being re-released to complete a piece of the past. Tomorrow will forever be our history and dance is our beyond.
Steve Day, February 2019
Discus may just have released the most important reissue of the decade. I should not write about it, for this is one of the milestones in both Keith Tippett’s career and the history of solo piano at large; plus, the album’s origin is narrated in the liner notes and on the web, so we won’t repeat it here. But the urge to invite anyone who is not yet acquainted with this remarkable music is too strong..... The ones in need of relieving a brain from the noise of someone else’s words.
Random thoughts, made more touching – as I am typing – by the ongoing cascades of arpeggios in the wonderful “Thank You God For My Wife And Children”, which for some reason I tend to associate to John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme. We’re at that level of expressive intensity and sheer internal vibration. Maybe even a superior level; this piece could easily move a sensitive individual to tears.
When Tippett loses himself into Sound, he calls everybody in. The perception of his technical mastery is almost forgotten, the stunning strength of the mass of harmonics elicited by his instrument in total command of the space. It’s not really comparable to other jazz-rooted pianists; rather, the feeling is similar to what’s normally experienced when Charlemagne Palestine attacks a Bösendorfer to induce a healing harmonic trance.
We are lucky to have people who preserve jewels like this for the posterity; and luckier for having lived in the same period of such an artist. When this writer/fan had the chance of thanking him following a concert in Rome, the emotion was so deep that I simply forgot to introduce myself (including Julie, who hadn’t performed but was there). Hopefully – before forgetting me a minute later – they understood my embarrassed rudeness.
Being still in awe of this recording today is a veritable consolation. Not everything has gone wrong in this time-wasting earthly existence, after all. - Massimo Ricci TOUCHING EXTREMES
After first experiencing jazz pianist Keith Tippett in action in May 1994, I felt sufficiently impressed to hit the streets the following morning and hunt down his back catalogue. Much of this was readily available, but some of Tippett's recordings proved harder to locate. Of these, The Unlonely Raindancer (1980) was especially elusive, a double LP set that had been released in the wake of his first European solo tour. Once found, however, it would become a firm favourite because, unlike his previous recordings, there was no group involved and Tippett's playing is boldly laid bare. As he would later admit, the album became the template that guided his future solo work.- through his magical Mujician period and beyond.
Recorded live in the Netherlands, The Unlonely Raindancer allows Tippett to demonstrate the full range of his complex and intricate playing technique where, similar to the manner that Cecil Taylor or Charlemagne Palestine approach their respective grand pianos, he explores every sonic capability that the instrument can produce. On the title track he ingeniously conjures up the sound of a rainstorm by using the upper register of his keyboard to imitiate the hammering rhythm of falling rain. Towards the end of this musical deluge he adds a victorious whooping vocal - in the style of a tribesman who has successfully summoned the heavens to open. Further in and Tippett's own prayer of gratitude surfaces on Thank You God For My Wife And Children where a stream of notes dances behind a procession of musical forms that rise and fall as the piece escalates towards a dynamic finale.
Even more impressive is the brooding Steel Yourself / The Bell, The Gong, The Voice, where Tippett plunges himself into the belly of his wooden beast. Using a repeated loop of brutally hammered out bass tones, the piece builds into a shifting roar that is both frightening and awe-inspiring. - Edwin Pouncey THE WIRE
Originally released in 1980 and long out of print, Keith Tippett’s //The Unlonely Raindancer// (Discus Records) makes a welcome return. Painstakingly restored from over 600 minutes of concert tapes, under Tippett’s agile fingers the piano becomes a rich orchestra of timbral and dynamic possibilities. Overflowing with translucent harmonies, subterranean rumblings, leaps of intuitive faith and haunting melodies, Tippett's command of space, subtlety and poetic vision is compelling. - Sid Smith, PROG
This first-time-on-CD reissue of Keith Tippett’s first solo piano recordings from 1979 is an important reminder of his storming style and eloquence on the instrument, a precursor of later work both solo and with his quartet Mujician.
Let’s beam ourselves back to the late 1970s. Keith Tippett had arrived in London from his native Bristol more than a decade earlier, played with the Blue Note musicians like Dudu Pukwana, Mongezi Feza and Louis Moholo from South Africa, become known for leading huge bands like Centipede and Ark, been on Top Of The Pops with King Crimson and married pop star Julie Driscoll; quite the happening guy. However, in the late 1970s things were not looking that rosy; a concert tour of the Netherlands loomed, no money to pay for a band to accompany him, and so Tippett took the plunge to play a series of solo concerts based almost entirely on improvised music.
His sole companion Rob Sötemann acted as promoter, driver, roadie and also recording engineer, capturing these performances and selecting passages for release as a double LP on his own Universal Productions label, long since deleted. The tapes were stored by Ogun Records’ Hazel Miller for the next 40 years, until Discus’ Martin Archer decided to take on the task of re-mastering and releasing the album again. This has been no small task – there is no master tape, and so Archer has had to re-assemble the music from 600-plus minutes of original on-tour recordings, using the original sound as a guide. It has clearly been a labour of love.
Rob Sötemann’s role is key to the music; as well as (presumably) selecting the passages to be released, he edited out the audience applause. This leaves each of the nine tracks somehow suspended in time, without touching the ground of the time or immediate context. From the opening seconds, the music is unmistakably Keith Tippett, with intense fast rippling fingerwork which sometimes belies the slow and measured ways in which the music develops and evolves through each track. The Muted Melody, for example, starts with a rolling low ostinato figure played with tremendous clarity, moving around and evolving until it lands on a mid-level ripple after about four minutes. This passage, still boldy intense by most standards, almost comes as quiet reflective relief.
One thing that comes across again and again is the way in which Tippett’s fast-moving fingers sustain and develop gradual changes and melodic statements. This is clear on the two versions of Tortworth Oak (named after the village in Gloucestershire where Tippett has lived since the mid 1970s), the only pre-thought piece on the album which was developed as the tour progressed. The tune resurfaced on the Mujician & The Georgian Ensemble concert recorded in Bristol in 1991 for Radio 3 and released in 2000, where it is revealed as a stately and glowing melody, shorn of the rapid-fire piano attack. There are some quieter moments too – The Pool has a beautiful limpid feel, while Thank God For My Wife And Children builds over eight minutes from Tippett’s audible humming accompanying himself to a startling conclusion.
This is fiery, committed music-making which can be seen as paving the way for Tippett’s later work both on solo piano (The Dartington Concert and Mujician Solo IV Live are fine examples) and his continuied fascination with improvisation, notably with the Mujician quartet with saxophonist Paul Dunmall, bassist Paul Rogers and the late Tony Levin on drums. It is important work in the development of the music we call jazz, and the reappearance of these performances is very welcome. - Mark McKergow, LONDON JAZZ NEWS
The re-blossoming of a long dormant rose. Or oak, as Tippett twice visits the folk melody of Tortworth Oak, though he soom transcends the tune with his massive chording, ocean-wide sense of dynamics and wrists of iron that allow him to repeat hot forged figures and trills with an unremitting, unswerving attack. With different pianos at different venues, there is a variation in tonality and ambience, but that adds to the overall richness of the sound quality, the narrative of the tour, as well of each cut. And that is Tippett's gift to the listener, that even in the most expressionistic passages, there's an organic storytelling arc to each piece, even within the epic Steel Yourself. This is improvised but not avant-garde music that disappears up its own arch. It's music with a heart of soul that can barely contain itself. But it does, just. - Andy Robson, JAZZWISE - EDITOR'S CHOICE
4 orizzontale: Keith stratosferico in piano solo. Sette lettere, nelle ultime tre caselle avete già …ett. Facile direte voi, dai la sapete… è Jarrett! E invece no.
Ovviamente ci starebbe sia enigmisticamente che musicalmente, ma il Keith in piano solo di cui voglio parlarvi oggi è un altro, per certi versi non meno geniale e originale, Keith Tippett.
Protagonista indiscusso – spesso assieme alla moglie, Julie Driscoll Tippetts, delle articolate vicende del jazz (e non solo) inglese, il pianista si è misurato sin dalla fine degli anni Sessanta – quando arriva a Londra dalla nativa Bristol – con il fervido intreccio tra jazz, rock, libera improvvisazione, passando con disinvoltura dalla collaborazione con i Blue Notes alle preziose “comparsate” in studio con i King Crimson, guidando progetti personali sempre all’insegna di una vorace creatività.
Sul finire degli anni Settanta, complice la difficoltà economica di muoversi con altri musicisti a carico (curiosa nemesi per chi aveva osato sfidare la ragionevolezza con un’orchestra ipertrofica come Centipede!), Tippett decide di affrontare un tour in Olanda in totale solitudine musicale.
Con lui c’è l’amico Rob Sötemann, che è un protagonista indispensabile di questa vicenda: facendosi più che uno e trino, autista, agente e fonico, Sötemann non solo rende possibile il tour ma lo documenta – scegliendo i brani e eliminando nell’editing gli applausi – in un doppio lp per la propria etichetta Universal Productions.
Sebbene il master di quei dischi sia andato perduto, le registrazioni del tour (più di 10 ore di musica) sono state conservate dalla meravigliosa Hazel Miller (vedova del contrabbassista Harry e anima dell’etichetta Ogun), consentendo così a Martin Archer della Discus il certosino lavoro di recupero e ricostruzione del disco originale per questa ristampa di The Unlonely Raindancer.
Curiosamente, ma non troppo (quella del piano solo è avventura che più di un “grande” ha affrontato solo tardivamente o, a volte, anche mai), il tour olandese – seguito anche da altre date, tra cui una milanese di cui si può trovare in rete una registrazione – costituiva la prima volta di Tippett nel cimentarsi in solitaria.
La prima di una importante serie (per motivi sia “pratici” che espressivi, il solo e il duo con Julie hanno svolto un ruolo consistente negli ultimi lustri) che troverà in dischi come The Dartington Concerti o alcuni momenti della serie Mujician, non ultimo quello registrato a Piacenza e pubblicato dalla Dark Companion.
In The Unlonely Raindancer esce già potentissimo l’intero universo pianistico di Tippett: il fantastico controllo di tutta la tastiera, il sensuale viluppo del suono che rapidamente conduce a una dimensione fuori dal tempo, il procedere per rivoli di arpeggi (caratteristica che lo allontana dal linguaggio più propriamente jazz e di libera improvvisazione europea) che si accumulano in onde sempre più spumose e travolgenti, la continua chiarezza melodica.
Le due versioni di “Tortworth Oak” sono limpide e a tratti abbacinanti, così come il digitare frenetico sul registro più alto dello strumento che caratterizza la title track. Ma non c’è momento di questo disco, dalle più quiete “Thank You God For My Wife And Children” e “The Pool”, passando per l’incombente “The Muted Melody” e giungere al rapido finale alla cetra di “Midnight Snow Walk”, che non si abbia la sensazione di un flusso urgente e illuminato dalla grazia musicale.
Lavoro spettacolare, assolutamente indispensabile non solo per chi segue la musica di questo Keith, ma anche per i tanti che hanno voglia di scoprire gemme di piano solo che non siano solamente quelle dell’altro Keith. – GIORNALEDELLAMUSICA.IT
Another pianist, who like Bley has been thoroughly involved with a variety of styles and ensembles, is Briton Keith Tippett, although there’s no record of him utilizing the back-fall for its rhythmic qualities. However on the title track of The Unlonely Raindancer (Discus 81 CD). the sheer audacity of his improvisation reaches such a height that his vibrations on the keyboard and inner strings become so inadequate that he repeatedly smacks the instrument’s wood and lets loose with couple of rebel yells. A reissue of his first solo set from 1979, the 78 minutes of what was a two LPs give him ample scope for full expression. Dynamically ranging through all layers of the piano with tropes that refer to Bop, modal, swing and free playing his interpretations range from sympathetic voicing which presage intertwined stops and transitions (“The Pool”) to spun out story-telling, expressed in widening spurts of emphasized textures and concentrated tonal color-melding climaxing with echoing forward motion (“Torthworth Oak”). The key(s) to his creativity though are subsequent tracks that in execution and exploration are mirror images of one another – one centred around treble pitches, the second the ground bass. The latter, “The Muted Melody” swiftly sweeps from kinetic to moderato as bouncing notes follow one after another in random rushes, often dipping into the deeper part of the soundboard. Further vibrating harmonics bolster and expose the playing which gallops to the end in speed mode. Concentrating on the harshest pitches that can be reverberated by concentrated on the highest keys in the first section of the more than 19-minute “Steel Yourself, the Bell, the Gong, the Voice”, Tippett creates Big Ben-like bongs from the wound string set. Ultimately reaching the mid-way mark he switches strategies from chord plucking to sweeping to a groove that highlights strength as well as swing. As his power voicing reaches a point where the sequence can’t become any thicker or cramped, he sophisticatedly diminishes the pressure with responsive strumming that echoes even after the final pluck. - Ken Waxman, JAZZ WORD
It’s a given when I say that over time Discus Music has been one of the major U.K. players in promoting a rich and diverse catalogue of left-field sonics and contempo composition, where others have feared to tread. But what is surprising is that this imprint has never concentrated its considerable efforts on any kind of reissue program. Until pianist / bandleader / composer Keith Tippett‘s The Unlonely Raindancer, clad in tux and sou’wester, shimmied back into the spotlight, that is.
This release initially saw the light of day as a double album issued on the little-known Universal Productions label; the aim, to document Keith’s solo tour of the Netherlands during April 1979, which took in the cities of Middelburg, Utrecht, Tilburg and Amsterdam. Aside from ‘Tortworth Oak”s pre-conceived melody lines and a brief zither cameo on ‘Midnight Snow Walk’, it’s improv piano all the livelong day, naked as St. Joanna intended. With tempos that are, at times, absolutely bewildering. K.T.’s patended warp-drive technique and dense cluster-pound on ‘Steel Yourself / The Bell, The Gong, The Voice’ come mixed with high-register precipitation; drenching the title track in a fine mist, flagging up a musician at the very top of his game. This is made even more remarkable when one combs the sleeve bio to find out that this was Keith’s debut solo tour. You can see why Robert Fripp was ultra-keen to deploy his talents on King Crimson’s Lizard nine years previous (more info on his tenure with the Crimsos can be gleaned from the new / expanded In The Court Of King Crimson mega-tome by Sid Smith, published this year through Panegryic).
It would be doing Raindancer a major disservice by overshadowing these steallar performances by spilling excess blather on just how this recording reappared. But details of this painstaking example of “reverse engineering” really do bear some extra scrutiny. And…it goes much like this…as no master tape existed for this set, the C.D. counterpart of the original album was reconstructed by Discus label boss Martin Archer from over ten hours of music recorded on the ’79 tour, which was then archived on eleven high-grade cassettes. He was then able to put a version (dubbed from vinyl) onto the studio computer to use as a reference. He then searched, no doubt until his eyes bled, for matching fragments of waveform within each concert performance, jigsaw style. Only when the L.P. was assembled by eye did Martin allow himself to listen to the music it contained!
In other words, upper-echelon piano exploration, unearthed through intensive graft. It doesn’t get much better than this. – Steve Pescott, SOUND PROJECTOR http://www.thesoundprojector.com/2020/06/13/tap-turns-on-the-water/