Peter Fairclough & Keith Tippett

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Peter Fairclough

Peter Fairclough drums, percussion

Keith Tippett piano, bells, chimes, woodblocks

New album
IMAGO due out spring 2003

Wild Silk : An Evening With Keith Tippett & Peter Fairclough

Keith Tippett and Peter Fairclough performed last night. This is one of the most amazing gigs you will ever see! Find a venue near you, and go there
—Simon Thackray, The Shed, 13 October 2001

Whatever combinations of players you find Keith Tippett in there is always an element of the spiritual, in a broad sense, in his playing. He says he plays to 'move people' and 'remove them from chronological time' and often that's just what he does.

On this occasion, as part of Liverpool's Frakture Festival, he was in the company of drummer Peter Fairclough, the kind of pairing he's used with Louis Moholo in the past. Piano and drums are perfect partners in many ways, especially if you regard the piano as a collection of finely tuned drums. And Tippett has unerring good taste when choosing drummers.

His playing moved between dark explorations at the lower end of the scale into rapid forays across the keyboard and often made use of powerful layers of sustained chords. His usual array of woodblocks and other objects were placed strategically on the strings and it was fascinating to watch as these objects danced and shuddered in the reflection cast in the open piano lid. The sound, as ever, was that mix of the familiar and the unexpected. While the positioning may be, to an extent, pre-ordained the very nature of these devices mean that slightly different effects and qualities of sound will be produced each time. There is an element of chance which suits Tippett's love of spontaneous composition or free improvisation.

Fairclough watched, followed and drove the music on, whether using sticks, brushes or his hands. He accented a mercurial keyboard run with a touch of a small cymbal or beat up a torrent of rhythms to match the dark rumblings of Tippett's explorations. Drummers are often considered as just the rhythmic bedrock of any line-up but he showed a strong sense of dynamic interplay and attention to melody.

Apart from their joint improvisations each player had space for solo work. Tippett first chose the piece commissioned by Julian Jacobson for a celebration of Beethoven. 'A Humble Salute' used echoes of the 'Pathetique' to create a beguiling meditation. By contrast Fairclough re-visited another tradition and offered his version of a Max Roach composition in homage to Big Sid Catlett. A tribute linking generations of jazz drummers. He also featured a somewhat dry piece by John Cage. Tippett showed he is equally at home in other areas outside of free improvisation as he carefully re-built 'Every Time We Say Goodbye', re-shaping the melody and crafting those familiar chords into a considered yet emotional statement.

But for me perhaps the most moving moment came when both drummer and pianist took the theme from the late Mongesi Feza's lovely, 'You Ain't Gonna Know Me 'Cos You Think You Know Me' and made it a brief, hymnal tribute to the trumpeter. I hope these musicians will be back—Paul Donnelly, Bluecoat Arts Centre, Liverpool, 11 October 2001

Wild Silk
(ASC CD8) reviews

Wild Silk appeared almost unannounced on ASC in 1996, and is now being re-launched on the same label, preceding a tour by the duo later this year. Fairclough – whose drumming has always featured a strong concept – is also a composer and band-leader who’s worked in a variety of contexts from Mike Westbrook to Paul Dunmall. It was the first time he and Keith had played together. As Fairclough explains it, “Keith and I both said we would turn up at the studio with some pieces. But the nearer it got, the less confident I was about mine. So at the studio Keith said ‘Shall we improvise?’ And we did”. What they played is what you hear, except for three similar-sounding pieces where the piano and percussion parts were recorded separately.

Tippett has an enormous stylistic range, and each track has its own distinctive character. Abstract free structures – as on “Under Thunder” – are set alongside the most gorgeous, slow-moving jazz harmonies found on the title track, “Wild Silk”. Here Fairclough is a gentle percussionist, focusing mostly on brushes. “Sketch for Gary” is closest to a jazz groove. “In the Glade of the Woodstone Bird” – the longest track at nearly ten minutes – has an almost Schoenbergian eerie expressionism, with piano preparations and exotic percussion. The concluding “Humble” is hymn-like, and remarkably coherent given its spontaneous creation. Wild Silk turns out to be a classic of 90s free Improv and it’s good to see its earlier neglect put to rights—Andy Hamilton, The Wire, March 2001

Keith Tippett is another pianist with a unique musical perspective, and his latest recording - a collaboration with percussionist Peter Fairclough - is a further demonstration of his amazing ability to come up with new ideas. "Wild Silk"(ASC CD8) is a consistently absorbing set of duets, with both players exploring the full emotional and dynamic range of a variety of percussion instruments. I suspect that this is one of those records which will stay fresh in the mind long after many more routine sessions have been forgotten—Pete Martin, Jazz UK

Keith Tippett, a dominant figure in British free-jazz and improv piano-playing for over three decades, never stops surprising even listeners familiar with his past. This duo with the former Mike Westbrook drummer Peter Fairclough recently toured the UK, intriguing audiences with its balances of delicacy and force, the alertness of the partners attention to each other, and what was for many a revelation in the scope of Fairclough’s skills as a percussionist. Some of the music (including perhaps unwisely the opening track) suggests the kind of very spacious, minimally-active free-jazz that can induce the occasional fidget, but the insistent low-register “Under Thunder” and the jazzy, Latin-flavoured “Sketch for Gary” are high points, and almost all the music represents jazz-motivated improv at its most selflessly, atmospherically intelligent—John Fordham, Jazz UK (Jan/Feb 2002)

Englishness! That’s what this record speaks of – English pastoral scenes and values. Not in any silly “John Major, back to basics” way but certainly to a set of beliefs and ideas at which New Labour would bridle and bristle. We’re talking Old Albion, Ned Ludd, Robert Owen and dear old Will Cobbett.

There are people who think that Keith Tippett is a bit of a crank. Others believe he’s one of the most important artists this country has produced and I have to confess I’m definitely in this camp. Anyone who can encompass the epic chaotic majesty of Centipede and the even better Ark big bands, the collective group Mujician, formal contemporary composition and exquisite little miniatures such as this is a rare, rare find indeed.

This album was originally released in 1996 and for those of you that like to dabble in improvised music, I can tell you that this is pretty approachable stuff. Peter Fairclough, the long-term occupant of the drum chair in Mike Westbrook’s groups, is at least the equal partner here. He’s a musician who’s just as capable of swinging outrageously or digging into a groove or delivering splashes and washes of abstract colour and light. A sadly underrated player, here he’s just as often the one exploring the margins as he is the one holding the performance together. Both he and Tippett are remarkably lyrical players and this music is both deeply emotional and intelligent.

“Wild Silk”, the title track is a thing of beauty – thoughtful, reflective and tightly structured. But to dare to follow it with the near-bop of “Sketch for Gary”, is a master stroke and then to follow that with “Casting The Net” borders on the sublime. Elsewhere, “In The Glade Of The Woodstone Bird” hints at something more exotic – China, perhaps, but more the one depicted on Willow Pattern rather than Cathay itself.

The last track is “Humble” in name if not in nature. The title’s a good one because the piece seems to hang in the air like an apology. It’s a quiet, almost shy close to a quite special album. The sleeve features a quote from Keith Tippett –“May music never just become another way of making money.” It’s nice to be reminded of things that you sometimes forget as you get older, fatter and more set in your ways. That’s what I mean by old values.
E.F. Schumacher was once asked how it felt to be called a “crank”. The alternative technology guru replied – “Oh, I never mind. A crank is a wonderful tool. It doesn’t pollute and what’s more it creates revolutions.” Four stars because small is beautiful—**** Duncan Heining, Jazzwise Magazine, October 2001

A beautifully recorded and astonishingly composed sounding series of meditative improvisations for percussion and piano. By playing the piano from the inside as well as the outside, Tippett creates a huge range of textural effects. First released in 1996, and made available again to coincide with the duo’s tour in October, this is one of the best British jazz records of the last decade—**** Phil Johnson, Independent on Sunday, 30 September, 2001

More good stuff from this small label. Percussionist Fairclough is best known for his work with the Westbrook Band but is moving further into the free atmospheric zone where Tippett has long been resident. Together they make intelligent, fairly abstract music, full of space, scraping sounds, rattling and bells.

Tippett makes the listener fully aware of the metallic components of the piano, playing its interior and adding objects to rattle about on the strings. Fairclough is melodic as well as rhythmic in his approach. It's a meeting of like minds rather than opposites and the results are often very beautiful indeed—Peter Bacon, Birmingham Post

Tippett releases are not the commonest of events and he certainly is an uncommon pianist: perhaps this gives new meanings to the pursuit of Rare Music. Fairclough is a percussionist and drummer - to these ears a more reflective and almost orchestral player than the high-energy impro drummers you might associate - and the combination is a highly fruitful one: both sets of instruments (Tippett plays some percussion, zither and plastic pan-pipes too) cover the entire tonal spectrum, can be abstract of pitch or tuned, produce notes or patterns of fully variable duration.

If I seem forced into music textbook language, it's only to try to do justice to the enormous possibilities of KT's music as soloist or collaborator. There's nothing academic about the musical product if you don't wish to analyse it; it is by turns beautiful, exciting, reflective, exhilarating, just like any other great music, and the musicians work together and apart like any partnership (improvisation or not), contrasting, complementing, developing each other's ideas and leaving space for the other to develop.

If you've ever thrilled to Tippett in action, if you yearn sometimes after a jazz where theme/chorus/solo are not the exclusive building blocks, if you like to feel challenged but not intimidated, if you fancy a walk around the edges of harmony, rhythmic patterning and instrumental technique, then this is a disc you should hear. If not, I wonder what jazz does for you at all— Steve Henwood, Venue, 5–19 July, 1996

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