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MIKE WESTBROOK: A MAN, A TUBA AND A RAINCOAT
KEITH TIPPETT SEPTET
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: its 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 isnt 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. Hes probably been neglected and undervalued his whole playing life and he still makes music with only the most meagre concessions to his audience. Its 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 cant 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 isnt as inchoate as Tippetts music sometimes is, but theres 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 its 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? Westbrooks zest for ransacking the centurys song tradition- as welI as its Jazz and compositional resources keeps turning out music thats 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 cant fault the fellows opportunism, his alchemical touch
Love For Sale, a Paris show of 18 songs might turn out to be my favourite Westbrook record, because its 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 doesnt 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 Westbrooks 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 isnt quite strong enough to carry his exposed role without strain but he finds a suitable note of cracked dignity; Mike does his composers piano and same puffing tuba. Superbly recorded, this is the ideal document of a set theyve been playing and polishing for a long time. Next, surely, another change.