A LOOSE KITE IN A GENTLE WIND FLOATING WITH ONLY MY WILL FOR AN ANCHOR (Ogun OGD 007/8) Recorded: Barnfield Theatre, Exeter, 25 October 1984.

A Loose Kite... Parts 1-4; Dedicated to Mingus.

Mark Charig (t, thn), Nick Evans (tb). Elton Dean (sxo, as), Larry Stabbins (ss ts) Tippect (p), Paul Rogers (b), Tony Levin (d).


LOVE FOR SALE (hat ART 2031) Recorded: Theatre Dunois, Paris. 7-8 December 1985.

Revenge Suite; Lush Life; Love For Sale; England Have My Bones; Enfance; Buddy Can You Spare A Dime; A Poison Tree; Bamboo Boogie; In The Bleak Midwinter; Seeräuber Jenny; Sonnet; Crazy For Swing; Weltende; Kanonensong; Trio Blues; Le Marin Naufrage; La Complainte Du Titanic; Bordeaux Lady.

Kate Westbrook (v, thn, bam f, picc), Chris Biscoe (ss, as, bs, acl), Mike Westbrook (p, tba, v).

A FAVOURITE MOAN among fans: the middle-ageing of the modern jazz musician. Consider the Blue Note generation of Shorter. Hubbard, McLean, Henderson, Tyner: it’s not that they're past their best, but that they hardly seem to be trying any more, settling so readily for the safest slot their music can find. The problem isn’t just an American one: our own senior players have the same dilemma, though in a rather different way.

One can hardly accuse a player like Keith Tippert of settling for the soft touch. He’s probably been ’neglected’ and ’undervalued’ his whole playing life and he still makes music with only the most meagre concessions to his audience. It’s just that the spirit of this personal course seems to have been smothered by the sheer effort of it all. The music here has a dank, unmoving quality, as if the gloomy rigour of his writing has set hard. Sticky ground . of course - this is like chastising a man for holding on to a single-minded vision, which is the opposite of what we usually do. But A Kite is a long, exhausted set that gives me little pleasure.

Tippett as a composer-arranger is tirelessly morose. Maybe he would like to be a British Mingus; but he can’t command the spark that such a curmudgeon could always call onto the bandstand. Though he says on the sleeve that A Kite was written for the players who perform it, the music has a fudged, rambling feel that the soloists put no special stamp on. The best moments come when the playing is serene and composed: it isn’t as inchoate as Tippett’s music sometimes is, but there’s little you can call memorable. The pianist himself is in shadow for much of the time, while the horns seem gripped by a lack of purpose. One feels like asking why this music is being played. Only on the closing "Tribute To Mingus", where there is an excellent, choleric theme to work off, does the group muster a real brooding spirit; Paul Rogers plays a plucky improvisation.

One is finally left with an impression of terrible weariness. It seems cruel to say it, but it’s as though these men have signally failed to get their music very far or get very far with it. A strong young generation of players snaps at their heels. Will they end up the same way?

Or will they become like Mike Westbrook, who never seems to get tired? Westbrook’s zest for ransacking the century’s song tradition- as welI as its Jazz and compositional resources keeps turning out music that’s acrid with poignancy, rowdy humour, shopworn gaiety. The Westbrook canon is frequently hit and miss: whole LPs can seem like aesthetic blunders, long compositions may provide only flashes of excitement. One still can’t fault the fellow’s opportunism, his alchemical touch

Love For Sale, a Paris show of 18 songs might turn out to be my favourite Westbrook record, because it’s a museum piece brought brilliantly to life: all that digging around in Blake, Brecht and Rimbaud pays a handsome reward here The Trio of Mike and Kate plus Chris Biscoe on reeds is weighted just right: the attention doesn’t flag over four long sides. A few things, like "Revenge Sweet" and "England Have My Bones" are hilarious breakneck travesties, but most are played at a pace that lets Ms Westbrook roll every syllable around her mouth and enables the other two to punctuate wittily or mournfully or knowingly in the background.

This is really Kate Westbrook’s record. If some of her characterisations have sounded a little too cartoon-cute in the past, these are dazzling. She can be girlish or bitter or fiendish or sorrowful or blowsy. "Lush Life" has never been so luxuriantly defeated; "Buddy Can You Spare A Dime?" begins in exaggeration and ends in tragedy. Chris Biscoe isn’t quite strong enough to carry his exposed role without strain but he finds a suitable note of cracked dignity; Mike does his composer’s piano and same puffing tuba. Superbly recorded, this is the ideal document of a set they’ve been playing and polishing for a long time. Next, surely, another change.

Richard Cook

The Wire, Issue 31, September 1986

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