102CD - Keith Tippett - The Monk Watches The Eagle - CD plus downloadTweet
A BBC recording released under licence by Discus Music.
Keith was commissioned to write this work for the 2004 Norwich and Norfolk Festival, where it received its premier (and to date only) performance, together with a broadcast by BBC Radio 3.
It is a beautiful and stirring work for large choir, saxophone octet and solo improvising voice. Whilst clearly referencing the great polyphonic choral music tradition, Keith's score also enables improvisational elements to be present - in such a skilful way that the listener is left with the impression of a unified piece despite the diversity of approaches which a close listen to the work reveals.
Julie Tippetts says "What a thrill to work alongside the BBC Singers, and be in the midst of such wonderful musicians. What generosity of warmth and spirit was displayed in this spine-tingling performance of Keith’s wonderful composition. I feel honoured to have been a part of it. I shall never forget the magical magnitude of that wonderful event. So atmospheric. Such a beautiful, moving experience."
And the final word has to be Keith's own dedication “A gift to my father, Patrick” – Keith Tippett
Composed and conducted by
Text and solo voice
Saxophone ensemble and improvising soloists
Paul Dunmall - soprano
Kevin Figes - alto
Ben Waghorn - tenor
Chris Biscoe - baritone
The Apollo Saxophone Quartet
Tim Redpath - soprano
Rob Buckland - alto
Andy Scott - tenor
David Roach - baritone
The BBC Singers
Keith was a wonderful man and one of the finest British composers of his generation. Following his death n June 2020, the first posthumously released Tippett recording is a piece of which he was specially proud: The Monk Watches the Eagle, a cantata for two saxophone quartets, the BBC Singers, and his wife, Julie, who provided a libretto evoking the last earthly thoughts of a holy man on his deathbed.
The recording is of its first and only performance, performed in 2004 as part of the Norfolk and Norwich Festival, which had commissioned it, and recorded for broadcast by BBC Radio 3 in Norwich Cathedral. Dedicated to his late father, the nature of the work and the setting of the performance remind us that Keith's early musical experience included spells as a chorister and church organist in his native Bristol.
His whole career showed us that he was comfortable in many idioms, from his astonishing solo piano improvisations to his appearance with King Crimson on Top of the Pops and his marshalling of the extraordinary 50-piece Centipede. The Monk Watches the Eagle finds him flying free of genre, blending the gestures of contemporary classical choral music with perfectly integrated saxophone improvisations -- by Paul Dunmall (soprano), Kevin Figes (alto), Ben Waghorn (tenor) and Chris Biscoe (baritone) -- and Julie's powerfully affecting singing.
Keith's use of his resources here is flexible and imaginative. His deployment of the singers is in a very English tradition of choral music, the voices sometimes soaring up to the 12th century cathedral's vaulted stone ceiling. There are times when he makes the saxophones sound like a pipe organ powered by human breath; even more astonishing is a passage where you imagine you're hearing distant gongs and bowed cymbals.
The 40-minute piece is continuous, but for our convenience the CD is programmed with seven divisions. The fourth of them, a 14-minute passage, contains some of the most moving music I've heard this year: a series of slow movements featuring lean a cappella vocal writing, a dissonant slow upward swirl of voices and reeds giving way to a glowing melody emotionally related to John Tavener's "The Lamb", Julie's mbira (thumb piano) and her wonderfully poised vocal solo over saxophone harmonies, and the return of the choir, with Biscoe's soft baritone tiptoeing gently between their legato phrases.
"Now it is silent, and words hang warm," they sing in this section. "All is calm. All that remains... All that remains in my heart is still. All is still. Now in the quiet -- and quite alone -- not alone!" But the luminous serenity is disturbed by a writhing Dunmall soprano solo, emerging from a babble of voices, demonstrating that the inherent possibilities of such collaborations did not end with Jan Garbarek and the Hilliard Singers. The parallel harmonies of the closing movement have an unadorned elegance reminiscent of plainsong.
It's a work of great spiritual depth and power, radiating its beams of light as though shining through stained glass -- the motif of the cover design. I remember Keith telling me about it with special pride. Now everyone can hear it, and join the long applause that filled the cathedral at the conclusion of a marvellous performance that reveals a different and very precious facet of the soul of a great musician. – Richard Williams, THE BLUE MOMENT
Poignantly issued only months after the recent death of the great English pianist Keith Tippett in June of 2020 at age 72, this is an extended 40 minute cantata.....magnificently recorded by the BBC during its premiere at the Norfolk and Norwich Festival on May 14th, 2004 in the spacious acoustics of Norwich Cathedral. Based on a text by Julie Tippetts, the work was conducted by the composer and dedicated to his father, Patrick, a music-loving Bristol policeman. Tippett himself, in an uncharacteristic gesture for jazz, does not appear as an instrumentalist. He was very happy about the recording, but did not live to see it released in his lifetime. It took Discus Music's Martin Archer's dedication with the support of Julie Tippetts to make it available. There's neither dabbling in composition here bor superficial "classics in jazz" fusionism. The atmospheres may recall more well known music...but it's deeply original. It's a culmination of a creative path that floted genre and style borderssince Tippett's landmark Centipede band of 1971, not insipred by a rebellious streak but because Tippett's creativity cannot be contained in any single given genre abd happily transcends them all. The central and longest 4th movement is the keystone and perfect synthesis of the strengths of the piece, building up from the sound of a mbira through Julie Tippetts' solo vocalisation to lovely choral melodies supported by the texture of the reeds. It's a majestic, rich recording repaying multiple listening. - Francesco Martinelli, NEW YORK CITY JAZZ RECORD
This is a sensational archive album by British Jazz pianist / composer Keith Tippett, which presents a live recording of his composition for large choir, solo voice and a two saxophone quartets, with lyrics by Julie Tippetts. The work was commissioned for the 2004 edition of the Norwich and Norfolk Festival and was premiered that year at the Norwich Cathedral where it was also recorded for broadcast by the BBC. Tippett conducted the performance, which included Julie Tippetts on solo vocals, the BBC Singers choir, an improvising saxophone quartet comprising of Paul Dunmall, Kevin Figes, Ben Waghorn and Chris Biscoe, and also the Apollo Saxophone Quartet.
The music is every bit as innovative, far-reaching and groundbreaking as the rest of Tippett's musical legacy and this posthumous release expands even further the scope of his musical vision, which encompassed enormous variety of works between solo piano music to extremely large ensembles like Centipede or smaller ensembles like Ark, and stylistically spanning various Avant-Garde sub-genres between Improvised Music, via Free Jazz to contemporary Classical Music, rubbing shoulders with Progressive Jazz and Art Pop.
Most of the body of this work is performed by the choir, which often sounds like an instrument rather than a choir, resembling choral works of 20th Century Classical composers like Henryk Gorecki, György Ligeti and Krzysztof Penderecki to mention just the most audacious ones. When accompanied by the saxophone quartets, one supporting the music harmoniously and the other spicing the proceeding with intensive improvisations, the music offers several climaxes, which mark the transitions between the consecutive sections of the entire composition.
It is not surprising to see Julie Tippetts taking a major part in this project, like she did in so many of his endeavors over the years. Her vocal performances are the focal point of this music and her improvised soloing should remind everybody of her incredible abilities from the first moment she arrived on the music scene as a Pop star and throughout her transformation as a highly idiosyncratic Avant-Gardist. The presence of Dunmall and Biscoe, two of the British Jazz most significant veteran saxophonists, adds additional quality to the rich tapestry of sounds and aural stimuli.
Overall this album is an absolutely essential piece of the puzzle, which Tippett managed to create during his lifetime, and perhaps even one of the most inspired of his works. As usual Martin Archer and his Discus label manage to bring an essential piece of the British Culture back to life, saving it from the imprisonment in the darkness of the BBC vaults (God bless them for recording the music), with a lot of help from Julie. This album is an absolutely essential piece of music in any serious music collection! - Adam Baruch
Keith Tippett was justifiably proud of The Monk Watches The Eagle and hoped that this recording ….. could eventually be released. When I interviewed him together with Julie Tippetts in 2019 he also said, rather pointedly, that his explorations away from jazz and improvisation and into modern composition had been largely overlooked by the music press.
The piece is a cantata in seven continuous sections ….. It is largely scored, but there are specific passages that are improvised by Tippetts and the designated saxophone soloists. It was recorded in Norwich Cathedral and while the ecclesiastical acoustics might invite comparison with Officium, the 1993 album by saxophonist Jan Garbarek and early music vocal group The Hilliard Ensemble, Tippett’s approach is quite different.
His deployment of the saxes and voices is inspired throughout, in combinations ranging from the tense, slow moving choral blocks of the introduction to an improvised duet with Julie and Ben Waghorn on tenor sax over similarly slow moving brass chords, which deliberately give an organ-like effect, and in another section the singers ascend in unison lines through saxophone chatter. In the lengthy fourth part, the way the textures change creates moments of strange beauty: from single soprano and bass voice to dense dissonant passages that remind - superficially at least – of Ligeti’s Requiem to warm spectral wisps of voices that usher in a soulful improvisation by Julie.
There’s a mixture of exultation and melancholy in the music that is reflected in Julie’s libretto. The piece was always intended to be for Keith’s father Patrick, and her idea was that it should involve a monk in his final hours looking back on his life: “The prayer he has prepared / Has landed on the eagle wings”. Her imagery becomes pared down from massed, trembling “cymbals of leaves” to “one small, solitary leaf caught on the wind”. At the very end, the voices rise and fall and then gently fade away, but without any hint of sentimentality. And the fact that The Monk Watches The Eagle has been released a matter of months after the composer’s death makes it doubly poignant. - Mike Barnes, WIRE
Amongst the many grim things that 2020 will be remembered for, the passing of Keith Tippett will have left an especially poignant void even for many of us who did not know him personally. I never actually met him but heard him play a number of times. The first, early on in my gig-going career, was at the 100 Club in January 1969. He and his band – Marc Charig (cornet), Nick Evans (trombone), Elton Dean (reeds), Gill Lyons (bass) and Alan Jackson (drums) – were just beginning a six-week residency for the London Jazz Centre Society’s Monday night sessions at the 100 Club as support to distinguished young bands including the Howard Riley Trio, the Chris McGregor Group and Dave Gelly. I was lucky enough to see those three gigs and was (in the vernacular of the period) knocked out. At that time it was already clear that Tippett was not someone to be constrained by categories, and whenever I saw him subsequently there was always something unexpected, whether he was playing solo, in duet or with bands of various sizes. What was never surprising was that he was surprising.
His range and originality is well-showcased here, with elements of jazz and classical music melding seamlessly and successfully. The Monk Watches The Eagle, effectively an oratorio, was commissioned by the Norfolk and Norwich Festival, premiered in Norwich Cathedral and recorded for broadcast on Radio 3. Thanks go to the BBC for making that recording available for this release, and to one Pierre Sigalas for generous financial support for the production of the CD. It would have been a great shame if this concert had not been more widely heard.
Julie Tippetts’ text relates the thoughts and reflections of a monk during his final hours, sung superbly by the BBC Singers (one of the finest and most versatile choirs you could ever shake a baton at), by solo tenor Bowley and by Tippetts herself. At times the piece seems chillingly bleak, at others ecstatically hopeful, even joyous, whilst elsewhere, as in a section featuring an Eastern-influenced solo by Tippetts, so yearning and beautiful it hurts.
This is a serious work written by the late master-pianist Keith Tippett with words by & featuring the voice of his wife, Julie, one of the greatest of all British singers. This is more of a modern classical work than a jazz work with incredible arrangements for and featuring the BBC Singers. Mr. Tippett, who has long been my favorite pianist, is conducting rather than playing piano. The music, however, is as powerful as any of his other recordings. He uses the voices and eight saxists in an awe-inspiring way, as one wonderful force, all parts perfectly integrated into the whole. The chorus often sounds angelic, with multilayered vocal tapestry. - DOWNTOWN MUSIC GALLERY NYC
As though an elegy for the departed pianist and composer, Keith Tippett does not perform on this work, which was commissioned for the 2004 Norwich and Norfolk Festival, but conducts an ensemble that includes Julie Tippetts on voice, a saxophone octet that includes long-time collaborator Paul Dunmall, and the polyphonic choir of the BBC Singers; an exquisite and stirring work. - SQUID'S EAR
June 14th this year pianist and composer Keith Tippett passed away. He was an important and influential innovator in the British jazz scene for many decades and made his mark also in the contexts of progressive rock and modern composed music, as a performer, composer, improviser, etc. Last year Discus Music did a rerelease of an early remarkable solo album: ’Raindancer’ (1980). This time the label surprises with a work Tippett wrote for the 2004 Norwich and Norfolk Festival “where it received its premiere (and to date only) performance, together with a broadcast by BBC Radio 3”. This previously unissued recording is now released under licence by Discus Music. Tippett’s oeuvre is immense and I do not pretend to have an overview of it. So I cannot tell whether this large choral work is an exception in his work. But exceptional it is. Julie Tippetts wrote the text for this composition that is about a monk reflecting on “his final hours before passing over from this present incarnation”, Julie Tippets explains. Keith Tippett dedicated the work to his father. And now in 2020, this work is released, in the same year as Keith Tippett’s passing, which gives extra personal meaning to this release. The work is performed by Julie Tippetts (solo voice, text), a saxophone ensemble and improvising soloists of Paul Dunmall (soprano), Kevin Figes (alto), Ben Waghorn (tenor) and Chris Biscoe (baritone), the Apollo Saxophone Quartet: Tim Redpath (soprano), Rob Buckland (alto), Andy Scott (tenor) and David Roach (baritone) and The BBC Singers. A choral work referring to traditions of western classical choir music, it also integrates aspects of jazz and improvisation. Whereas the powerful voice of Julie Tippetts evokes sometimes Balkanesque atmospheres. Composed (choir) and improvised parts (saxophones, solo voice) converge into one thorough unity. For sure a strong musical statement. A work with real depth and significance. Dorf Mulder – VITAL WEEKLY
The choral cantata tradition is one of my favorite things, especially baroque cantatas. There was a time when I seriously asserted that I could live the rest of my life with only Bach’s cantatas to listen to and I could be happy. I was wrong, but still, it happened. The British church music tradition is another one of my favorite things. Admittedly, the Venn diagram of those two has a prominent overlap, but they are different enough to scratch two different itches. Finally, Keith Tippett music — yeah, it’s a thing — is yet another of my favorite things. Can you see where this is going?
The Monk Watches the Eagle is a cantata written and conducted by Keith Tippett (with text by Julie Tippetts) in 2004 and had a single performance at a festival in Britain that year, as well as being (thank God) broadcast and recorded by the BBC. Tippett gives us the BBC Singers (as well as Julie Tippetts’s soprano) and two saxophone quartets. There are improvising soloists of both the saxophone and vocal type, as well as choral support for the soloists. It didn’t occur to me until a few listens in that the saxophones very often take on the continuo role of an organ or virginal. The blending of timbres is so well done, with such a thoughtful use of dynamics, that I caught myself thinking, “That there is some subtle organ playing.” There is, of course, no organ on this.
The Monk Watches the Eagle is one continuous 41 minute piece of music, but is divided into seven sections for the convenience of the listener. The notes say that these divisions “correspond with divisions marked in the score.” I’m not sure why that doesn’t equal, “this piece is in seven sections.” But there you go. The seven sections do correspond to what feel like story beats to me. I definitely feel a story here. An arc that moves from questioning and unease to emergence to elegy to awesome/awful ecstasy to a rest that’s as restful as any IV-I amen you ever wanted to hear (though it is not, in fact, IV-I), and that only gets us to section 4. An early reviewer referred to the piece’s “difficult contemporary idiom” and there is that Ligeti vibe at some points, but there’s also that point right at the beginning of section 2 where Julie Tippetts’s blues inflected solo evokes nothing so much as the moment when Porgy shifts out of the recitative and starts singing, “Bess, you is my woman, now.” It’s heartbreakingly good. Section 4 ends with a baritone solo from Chris Briscoe that just forces you to stop and pay attention in its quiet elegance.
A lot of relationships are happening in this piece: the two saxophone quartets play off each other, they play off the choir, each separately plays off the choir, the vocal soloists conspire with each other and saxophone soloists, etc. But the relationships and their communications merge organically into coherence. There’s also the relationship of the music to the text, which is, unfortunately, closed to us because the text is nowhere to be found (I’ve looked … if you find it somewhere, please pass it on). The reviewer in the notes calls it “rhapsodic, if rather difficult.” I can attest to the rhapsody, but not the difficulty. It’s all in English, but, except for a few sections, indecipherable by my ear. I can honestly say, I’ve never been so curious about a cantata text. When Kevin Figes plays his extraordinary, extended alto alarum in section 6, I really want to know what he’s alarmed about. Like the whole of this piece, it sounds like a jeremiad of substance. – Gary Chapin https://www.freejazzblog.org/
A special BBC recording that captures Tippett's cantata on its debut at Norwich Cathedral. It's a diverse piece, built around two saxophone quartets,the BBC Singers, and, inevitably and inimitably, the force of nature that is Julie Tippetts. Tippetts also wrote the text, an allusive evocation of a monk's vision of approaching death. Tippetts gyres and gambols from an ecclesiastic piety to the dirtiest of blues moans, all ineterspersed with a catalogue of yelps amd wails that Maggie Nicols would relish. The use of saxophones coud be compared to Jan Garbarek's ecclesiastic work: but this is more complex, more lithe, as one quartet holds themes and rhythmic shape while the jazz crew,notably Biscoe in rambunctious form, improvise boldly. Tippett's writing for the admirable BBC Singers taps various choral traditions, one moment etherial (think Holst's Neptune), then eerily earthy, holding long sustained notes that modulate into fearful Ligeti-like chords. The composer-conductor dedicated the piece to his father, and in turn this is a fittingly heavenly way of remembering the recently-passed Tippett himself. - Andy Robson, JAZZWISE
Tra i dolori che il 2020 ha dispensato con non richiesta generosità, la scomparsa di Keith Tippett a giugno riveste un carattere di malinconica rilevanza. Non solo per la – relativa – ancor giovane età (non aveva ancora 73 anni), ma soprattutto per quello che il musicista inglese ha rappresentato in termini di generosità umana e qualità artistica. - Leggi anche: Dedicated to you, but you weren’t reading: un ricordo di Keith Tippett.
Artista integerrimo, che ha sempre considerato la pratica del comporre e dell’improvvisare come una necessità che andava ben oltre le tendenze, Tippett ha attraversato un cinquantennio di vita musicale europea con una tensione qualitativa sempre altissima, passando dal piano solo al duo con la moglie Julie, dal quartetto Mujician alle titaniche imprese di Ark e Centipede, dal Sudafrica dei Blue Notes alla breve, ma celebratissima, collaborazione con i King Crimson.
Non sorprenderà dunque che la prima uscita “postuma” sia un lavoro in cui Tippett non suona il pianoforte, ma compare come compositore e direttore.
Si tratta di una cantata per coro, otto sassofoni (4 di impostazione classica, 4 con “licenza di improvvisare”) e voce solista, commissionata dal Norwich and Norfolk Festival nel 2004 e all’epoca trasmessa da BBC Radio 3.
Dedicato al padre e dal carattere evidentemente meditativo e spirituale (il libretto evoca i pensieri di un uomo sul letto di morte) è un lavoro di commovente intensità, nel quale si incontra la tradizione corale inglese, un approccio organistico ai sassofoni – che spesso respirano come un mantice vivo – e elementi di inquietudine che non sarebbe fuori luogo ricondurre al blues.
Ogni tanto compaiono elementi stranianti e meravigliosi, come la mbira suonata da Julie Tippetts all’inizio della quarta, formidabile, sezione della cantata (sezioni di praticità discografica, dal momento che il lavoro andrebbe fruito senza interruzioni), ma è spesso l’irrompere, come una marea, di una forte massa accordale (anche qui le esperienze giovanili come organista a Bristol tornano con persistenza quasi warburghiana) che spinge quasi fisicamente l’ascoltatore verso spazi di profondità ricettiva che poi accolgono i momenti più rasserenati e lirici.
La voce di Julie o il sassofono lacerano a tratti questa stasi con una irruenza ancestrale, necessaria, che riconduce il sacro a una dimensione affettiva intima che consente a Tippett di maneggiare con maestria differenti codici lessicali (l’incipit arrembante della parte 5, momento dalla solennità epica, per esempio), a volte di nitore quasi madrigalistico, altre volte compressi dentro vortici atonali.
Un lavoro di cui Tippett andava fiero, una composizione, anche fatta la tara sull’emozionalità della scomparsa del musicista, che non può che commuovere, con la sua atemporalità quasi salvifica in un anno di frenetiche videochiamate. Ma soprattutto un’ulteriore, splendida, testimonianza della statura di Keith Tippett, pianista, compositore, uomo che ha lasciato un vuoto davvero profondo nell’ecosistema musicale di questo pianeta. - Enrico Bettinello, GIORNALE DELLA MUSICA
Keith Tippett, who died in June 2020, didn't think of narrow genre boundaries. He dedicated the work to his father Patrick and subtly intertwined the long tradition of polyphonic English choral music with modern improvisational elements. The BBC's professional chamber choir…..proves to be extremely versatile and stylish even in the most difficult passages. Julie Tippetts sings as a soloist and with Ben Waghorn and even plays Mbira. For the sake of clarity, Tippett has divided the work into seven tracks, which does not diminish the overall impression: “The Monk Watches The Eagle" remains exciting from the first to the last note and offers details and surprising twists without compromising the reception as a closed whole work. The great form works primarily through the abundance of compositional finesse, the quality of interpretation and the convincing story of the last days of a monk before his transition from his current incarnation into new spheres of human existence. - RAINER BRATFISCH, JAZZ PODIUM
Dagli archivi della BBC la Discus Music trae questa registrazione del compianto pianista e compositore Keith Tippett (scomparso quasi un anno fa). L’opera, per grande coro, ottetto di sassofono e voce di improvvisazione solista, ha avuto sinora soltanto questa esecuzione per il Norwich and Norfolk Festival del 2004 ed è di grande interesse. Unisce la tradizione della cantata inglese ad elementi di improvvisazione, lasciati ai sax e alla voce potente ed espressiva della soprano Julie Tippett. Due sono i momenti che hanno particolarmente attirato la mia curiosità di ascoltatore. Il primo è l’assolo della voce poco dopo la metà della quarta traccia. Per qualche ragione mi ricorda l’assolo celeberrimo della corista Clare Torry in The Great Gig in the Sky di ‘The Dark Side of The Moon’ dei Pink Floyd. È probabilmente meno coinvolgente, sicuramente meno irruente, ma (senza nulla togliere al primo, che resta una gemma) forse, nella sua misurata brevità, più toccante ed espressivo: la successiva ripresa austera del coro ne segnalano l’incisività. Il secondo momento è l’affascinante interazione tra il coro angelico e la libertà dell’improvvisazione dei sax (graffiante quella del sax soprano) dopo la metà della traccia n. 6. E già che ci sono aggiungo ancora un terzo momento (l’eco parkeriana del solo del sax contralto nella quinta traccia) e la segnalazione per il coro, del cui canto Tippett ha scritto anche le parole. Ma l’opera non può essere ridotta a questi aspetti specifici e a questi momenti iconici: è nell’insieme davvero assai particolare e merita, quindi, una menzione altrettanto particolare. Anche perché, last but not least, ci fa ricordare, con l’ascolto, un grande musicista. - Alessandro Bertinetto, KATHODIK
Unexpected discovery of the day is this 2004 concert of a work by the great Keith Tippett, recorded by the BBC and featuring the BBC Singers, plus two teams of saxophone players and Julie Tippetts, who composed the text of The Monk Watches The Eagle (DISCUS MUSIC DISCUS102CD) and was the lead singer. Tippett was mainly known to one and all as a superb jazz / improvising pianist, and as one of the few UK musicians to make interesting crossover inroads into progressive rock (via King Crimson, and his own Centipede), but he was also capable of producing very convincing modernist compositions, one of which is Linückea (a very adventurous blend of classical and jazz forms). The Monk Watches The Eagle is an amazing piece of choral music, in places rivalling my favourite records in this mode by Penderecki, Messiaen, or Ligeti; part 4 especially could easily pass muster as modern devotional music, while still experimenting with strange mixed chords in extraordinary fashion.
Not content with that, Keith Tippett also finds a way to accommodate jazz passages from his massed saxophones; and of course the free-form warbling of Julie Tippetts, who is allowed a generous amount of stylistic freedom on this record. Her text has a semi-religious theme – “the thoughts and reflections of a monk” at the point of death, is how she describes it – and seems to be a work of her own imagination, rather than one modelled on a piece of scripture or devotional text. It’s been quite a delight to discover this, as Keith Tippett is a personal favourite of this listener, and he has produced a work of great originality, sensitivity, and emotional richness. – Ed Pinsent, SOUND PROJECTOR
This is not so much a review of a performance more a review of myself; how sometimes your own ears get in the way of hearing. Back in 2004 we packed our little Ford KA and drove the 245 miles from Bristol to Norwich to be there for this performance of The Monk Watches The Eagle.
I knew it was new. I’d had been given the title ahead of time. In 2004 all I wanted to hear was Keith’s piano and Dunmall’s solos. I turned up at all the gigs like a sponge trying to mop up an ocean.
In Norwich there were wooden pews. And hey, Keith had no intention of using a piano. This was not going to be about keyboards, his only instrument were his hands conducting the ensemble. As for Dunmall, he blew soprano tracking the BBC Singers until in the closing minutes he took off on a short acappella coda as if shaking the citadel.
Half way through, Julie Tippetts had almost lifted me out of my pew. A huge vocal improv that came from angels brought up on blues and given rebirth. But though I was there for sure, my ears ‘missed’ most of what was going on. As always Keith was generous. He told me, “Steve you’ll come to The Monk from another place.” And so I did.
For years I’ve had a cassette tape of this performance. Instead of trying to find Loose Kite, Mujician and the back catalogue, I redialled my ears to hear what was actually played/performed not my preconceptions. It became a revelation. By then I knew just enough about György Ligeti to have a tenuous grasp of contemporary choral music. But this Monk’s Eagle flies far beyond Ligeti; more akin to deep meditation or at least what I understand that might be like. Importantly The Monk Watches The Eagle became a well of new music. A place where I also found Arvo Pärt, Tavener and James MacMillan though none of these guys made anything quite like this leap (of course not, they made their own). The real deal for Keith Tippett on that Norwich Friday night, in May 2004, was that he took his ‘giant step’ using a double saxophone quartet, Julie Tippetts and the collective might of the BBC Singers. For him I know it penetrated his experience of belief. As for me, given time, it became an exquisite godsend, beauty made bare of everything that had gone before - into a profound sanctum never replicated live again. This is among the most sacred music Tippett and Dunmall ever played together.
I’m being honest. On the night in question, I was there in person but with cloth ears, unable to reconcile the surroundings enough to allow myself to rest any karma with the magic being given out. Later, just as Keith predicted, I caught up completely with the whole choral woodwind chemistry of the composition. But via a cassette tape it was always a dodgy medium. Now I’m listening without the slip and hiss of tape. Particularly now, following Keith’s passing in July 2020, this is truly an inspired compositional prayer of sound. The CD has the complete forty minute performance divided into seven sections to enable a certain amount of ‘pick and choose’. Whilst track four is a pure integrated drone made up multiples from the whole ensemble, it’s followed by track five’s ‘get lucky’ break of saxophones. The contrast is breathtaking. Once again, my thanks to Discus Records for seizing the opportunity to issue this pristine recording, it refreshs my ears. - Steve Day: 2021