Keith Tippett - The Monk Watches The Eagle


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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 102CD) 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