102CD - Keith Tippett - The Monk Watches The EagleTweet
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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
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