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Keith Tippett Octet
The Nine Dances of Patrick O’Gonogon
Discus 56CD

                                                                                                                                        ©Sean M. Kelly

In this music, one crucial aspect that has carried over from the classical realm is the ability, by some composers and arrangers, to orchestrate rather large bands into sounding much more like a small unit, and scaling a duet or a trio up to something massive. Much of this is a delicate balancing act, hinging on something like the push-pull of colors one sees in a later Cézanne or Hans Hofmann painting, vistas toggling with minuscule areas for primacy. One could also compare it to the fact that, say, a Jackson Pollock woodblock print feels staggeringly huge, or a sizable Phillip Guston canvas appears intimate and condensed. British pianist Keith Tippett’s work has similarly long displayed a clear understanding of the fluctuating nature of scale, working from large orchestral formations like Centipede and Ark down to small groups like the rugged Mujician; duets and small groups with his wife, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Julie Tippetts (Couple In Spirit and Ovary Lodge); and solo music, all of which exhibits intimacy, individuality and largesse.

For this octet work, The Nine Dances of Patrick O’Gonogon, Tippett brings together a mid-sized ensemble expert at realizing visions that combine distant memories of Irish folk song and a lifetime of engagement with jazz and contemporary music. Many of the players are brought from the Royal Academy of Music, alongside Italian trumpeter Fulvio Sigurta and longtime Tippett drummer Peter Fairclough. The disc’s nine pieces are arranged into three clusters within which pieces mostly fold into one another, and the suite is augmented by two brief codas (one sung by Julie Tippetts). The first section opens with “The Dance of the Return of the Swallows,” a snappy ladder climb introducing a few interleaved layers that wheel and break off from the central spins before reconnoitering around a shimmering rhythmic yaw and jagged ensemble trills. Bassist Tom McRedie is given an unaccompanied space to dig around his roots, a brief respite from furious chirps and hungry group conversation. Out of the fracas emerges “The Dance of the Intangible Touching,” echoes of “Naima” (especially the Roswell Rudd arrangement from Archie Shepp’s Four For Trane) in gauzy, plangent horns leading out into Tippett’s spry meditation, gently supplanted by bass and cymbals. Hands on toms signal “The Dance of the Sheer Joy of It All,” reminiscent of Irish piping music (perhaps on a whistle), its altos and brass in taut formation, with Sigurta’s clear, somewhat gravelly rejoinders a nod in the direction of the late Kenny Wheeler.

The second trio of pieces is a bit more languid in mood, the chewy blues of “The Dance of the Walk with The Sun On His Back,” slight bit-chomps as its essence, is separated from the lush, glassy pyramidal stir of “The Dance of the Day of Observance” by an elegant and subtly vocal trombone solo by Kieran McCleod. The latter is a through-composed look at Gil Evans, piano and trombones creating a powerful, hovering stillness in a landscape that eventually fleshes out with gauzy horns and cymbals. The final group of tunes is incisive and imbued with toughness, “The Dance of the Bike Ride from Shinanagh Bridge with the Wind at His Back” quickly moving from an accelerated, flat-out pace into bright, circular play, Sam Mayne’s tart alto lands somewhere between Mike Osborne and Jackie McLean as he toys with churchy motifs amid rapid arpeggios and dissonant ensemble blocks, the entire octet in tousled coagulation. Sweet quaver heralds the march of the brief “Dance of Her Returning,” flugelhorn curling out and crackling atop the rhythm section’s guides, before “The Dance of the Wily Old Fox of the Ballyhoura Mountains” explodes out of the long shadows with brassy gulps and methodical clusters and front-line pokes that, in spite of the tune’s insistent weight and collective tangle, actually feel rather lush.

With a vocal lullaby and a gorgeous, primarily full-band rendition of the traditional “The Last Rose of Summer,” the rose itself rendered in spiky pianistic eddies, gently falling away, The Nine Dances of Patrick O’Gonogon come to a close. Whatever the ensemble or solo configuration, Keith Tippett has always fascinated. With this octet and the suite of music here, Tippett has created an album that feels like it shouldn’t come to a close. I don’t necessarily mean that The Nine Dances of Patrick O’Gonogon (a made-up character, by the way) are merely open-ended, but that the journey is like a novel or a play that one becomes completely engrossed in and is sad to leave. That almost never happens with a record.
–Clifford Allen

Cuneiform Records

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