The venue is Dalston’s trendy Café Oto, on Ashwin Street. It’s less than 100 yards from where I saw guy getting his head kicked in four summers ago, called an ambulance and lost a t-shirt from Long Island Drum Center because the ambulance crew used it to stem the bleeding. However, Islington’s creep eastwards and the extending western boundary of achingly trendy Hoxton mean that this part of town is becoming more chic than it was back then, at least once you’re indoors.

The venue’s interior is shabby hipster chic. The walls are white or cream, depending on whether they have been plastered and painted or are draped with canvas sheets. The bar is an uneven countertop handmade from plywood, serving two excellent blonde Belgian lagers. The house red is a Malbec, served in battered tumblers. The mood lighting matches the beverages – the Yamaha grand piano and a table of hand-held percussion instruments warmly lit in amber and burgundy. The audience sits expectantly on small wooden church hall chairs, at this high altar of Contemporary acoustic music.

Keith Tippett and Julie Tippetts

Keith, the “mujician” opens with slow, sparse chords, Julie responding with small sounds from her head voice. For 35 minutes the pair explore the possibilities of the reverent silence, sculpting drama and melancholy, darkness and light. Keith’s trademark piano treatments are the perfect counterpoise to Julie’s palette of vocals and percussive sounds. He conjures whale-noises from the piano’s interior, velvet harmonics and harpsichord zings melding with Julie’s rich resonating voice, the timbres combining so as to become momentarily indistinguishable. The duo dances in tandem; they jest and jibe, laugh and weep. There is a pause of almost 30 seconds as they finish, Julie opening her eyes allowing the music’s spirit to depart.

The Octet

Playing the newly commissioned suite The Nine Dances of Patrick O’Gonogon – composed, arranged and performed by Tippett – this new band dives headlong into a set of pieces as fresh and as vibrant as they are diverse, coherent and exciting. Keith has blended Mingus Ah Um and nods to Irish traditional music without once creating a cheap “fusion” of jazz-folk. Rich voicings and jagged harmonies, angular melodies and the sheer volume of the 5-strong horn section in this small room – these create and curate (you will always find mastery of both at a Keith Tippett gig) a music that is uniquely contemporary and alive. Peter Fairclough on drums – Keith’s UK drummer of choice for a couple of decades now – drives the band with passion and fury, humour and sophistication, ears and eyes alive all the while to the pounding graceful gymnastics of bassist Tom McCredie. The second dance begins with a bass solo, building to an electrifying collective improvisation. Thrilling solos follow from James Gardiner-Bateman and Sam Mayne on saxes. The suite lasts an hour, but time has stood still, the music is the moment. The coda, the traditional “The Last Rose of Summer”, showcases ensemble arranging at its most rewardingly gorgeous. Tonight is live art at its most sincere. There is no bullshit at a Keith Tippett concert.



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