Green and Orange Night Park

bridge

A post on my Facebook page this week linked to this page on the DGM Live website. It reports that Keith Tippett is recovering from a heart attack and pneumonia and will be unable to work for the foreseeable future. Some of Keith’s friends in the music business are doing what they can to help him and his family. They have set up a “rescue fund” and all proceeds from the sale of his latest CD release will go there.

This news brought back fond memories of Keith Tippett’s contributions to some of the early King Crimson albums. One track in particular stands out: Bolero – A Peacock’s Tale from the Lizard album that was a Crotchety Man album of the month in January 2016. In that post I said this about the Peacock’s Tale:

Then, in amongst the other instruments, the piano goes off on an astonishing flight of fancy – the ivories ripple and tinkle, ascending like a pair of squabbling birds, up and up, octave after octave as if each hand is racing to be the first to leap off the top of the keyboard.

It was that short passage that engraved the Keith Tippett name on the honours board in Crotchety Man’s personal hall of fame. Here’s a six minute video I created by extracting the peacock from the 23 minute long lizard that stretches across the whole of the second side of the album. The extraordinary piano section comes at about the 4 minute mark.

But dedicated readers of this blog already know that story. It’s old news. So the research elves formed a search party and ventured off into the uncharted corners of cyberspace for more of Mr. Tippett’s music.

Wikipedia has a selected discography that lists around 100 albums, the great majority of which feature Keith Tippett as a collaborator rather than the headline artist. His own website, has a catalogue of 24 Keith Tippett CDs, again mostly collaborations and all but six out of stock. On Spotify there are three albums under Keith Tippett (all collaborations), two more by the Keith Tippett Group and one by the Keith Tippett Tapestry Orchestra. For a musician held in such high regard KT seems to be surprisingly under-promoted. Perhaps that’s why the rescue fund is needed.

A full search of the Tippett canon would stretch the Crotchety elves resources well beyond their Track of the Week budget so I have chosen a piece called Green and Orange Night Park from the Keith Tippett Group‘s 1971 album, Dedicated To You, But You Weren’t Listening. The album title was, of course, stolen from a track on Soft Machine‘s Volume Two and Night Park does sound a lot like 1971 vintage Soft Machine. But, where the Soft Machine track uses just a guitar and Robert Wyatt’s idiosyncratic vocals Night Park is a full jazz band composition taking nothing (as far as I know) from the earlier cut.

Listen carefully to the first 1 minute 50 seconds. That’s where Tippett’s fingers pummel the piano in a glorious celebration of sound, pounding along somewhere between tuneful and tuneless, setting the scene for the horns. After that we barely hear the piano at all but its spirit lingers on like the homeopathic signature of a poisonous substance in ultra-high dilution.

keith

If you enjoyed this night time stroll in the park perhaps you’ll join with me in wishing Keith a speedy recovery.

A Humdrum Star

surface of the sun

For as long as the human race has existed we have tried to understand our place in the universe. It’s a question that goes beyond “where are we?” to the deeper mystery of “who are we?”. And scientists have given us some of the answers.

We find that we live on an insignificant planet of a humdrum star lost in a galaxy tucked away in some forgotten corner of a universe in which there are far more galaxies than people.

― Carl Sagan

gogo penguin

I think it is safe to assume that GoGo Penguin took the title of their latest album, A Humdrum Star from that thought-provoking Carl Sagan quote. Did they choose that title to suggest this, their fourth album, has the answer to some deep mystery? Or are they hinting that it is just the next, unremarkable work in a continuing series? They haven’t told us, so we’ll probably never know.

What is clear, though, from listening to the album is that Chris Illingworth (piano), Nick Blacka (double bass) and Rob Turner (drums) have a fiery plasma of music running through their veins. The laws of physics explain why the Earth orbits the sun and why we can’t walk through walls; perhaps one day a Theory Of Everything will explain what compels GoGo Penguin to compose and perform their particular form of sunny, uplifting modern jazz.



— 1 —

A Humdrum Star starts with a spacious, spiritual piece called Prayer. There are no stars here. Space is a dark, empty place that we are slowly drifting through. The vacuum has sucked away all substance; there is nothing to carry a sound. But nature abhors a vacuum and our disembodied minds fill the void with slow piano chords echoing the machinery of creation. If God has a voice we are hearing it now. It seems to say, “Be at peace.”

— 2 —

Ahead a pinprick of light appears. Then another. Soon a billion stars are sparkling in the blackness. They pirouette around each other aggregating into loose luminous balls, cosmic dancers with swirling skirts. It is the beginning of time. The heavens are as black as a blanket of Raven feathers, the stars peeping out like beady eyes. We are now scudding through the heavens as if the Creator has given us angel wings. And we carry His joy towards our destination with an irrepressible lust for life.

— 3 —

But our body is not yet formed. We are in Bardo, alive but not corporeal. For the time being we are free to go where we please, to explore this fresh new universe and to marvel at its beauty. There are shapeless nebulae, there are spiral galaxies, there are stars of many hues and sizes. There are spinning neutron stars spewing out beams of high energy radiation and there are fearsome black holes sucking everything into their gaping maw. It is a truly wondrous creation.

— 4 —

We pause, now, to admire a planet with A Hundred Moons. The celestial choreographer has arranged these balls of rock and ice so that they describe intricate paths, drawing ever-changing patterns in the sky. It is a sublime work of which Slartibartfast himself would be mightily proud.

— 5 —

Moving on we are reminded that the universe can be a dangerous place. Even on this mostly harmless planet swinging round an ordinary star and nestling in the habitable zone where liquid water is abundant its native creatures need to take care. For here is a picturesque section of river known as the Strid that is thought to be the most dangerous stretch of water on this world. Its series of waterfalls and rapids hide a deep underwater channel, quite calm and inviting on the surface but deadly to any unwary animal that ventures into the water.

— 6 —

Our destiny is becoming clear. A living body is forming. It will house our soul. Soon. But for a little while we must remain in this immaterial Transient State. The prospect is exciting. Our heart, if we had one, would be pounding, our life blood would be coursing through newly minted arteries and veins, our fresh new mind would be thrilled with the sights and sounds of a very different world, a world of bone, sinew and mortal flesh.

— 7 —

It is time. The images in the celestial picture book are fading. God has ordered a Return To Text. For a moment all that remains is inadequate words, black characters on white pages, staring back at us where rainbow colours used to be. And yet there is poetry in those lines. Consonants snap, vowels sing, syllables flow with a soothing, satisfying rhythm. Now that the pictures have gone we can, finally, see and hear the music written on the page.

— 8 —

All memory has been erased. Body and soul are fusing in the pure white heat of a sorcerer’s Reactor vessel, a crystal crucible tough enough to withstand even the fires of Hell. The sights, sounds and feelings of our former life have been expunged leaving a blank sheet on which to write the thoughts and deeds of our reincarnated self.

— 9 —

A child gazes through the Window to where our humdrum star bathes the garden in sunlight. The trees and the flowers drink in the rays; they suck in carbon dioxide from the air, building woody trunks, fleshy stems, green leaves and pretty petals. Butterflies and bees gather nectar, pollinating the plants that the animals munch on. The sun drives the water cycle, too; the harder she pedals the more moisture she lifts from the oceans into the air where it forms clouds. And the clouds make the gentle rain that quenches the thirst of every living thing on this beautiful blue planet.

colours

From a distance the Penguin’s star is a smooth, bright ball of sound but, if we get a little closer, we can hear it sizzling with energy. Piano runs spin repeatedly, eddies on the fluid skin of a great ball of fire. Although amidst those roiling surface motifs there are calmer, darker patches and short, but spectacular, eruptions of improvisation. The double bass rings with the slower resonance of whole-body vibrations but it, too, bounds restlessly along, surrounding the piano runs with great circles of its own. And the drums fizz with radiation heating the star’s atmosphere to unimaginable temperatures.

This latest album could be considered humdrum in the sense that it continues the main sequence of development established by GoGo Penguin‘s previous albums but it is far from ordinary. It is the brightest star in their constellation so far. How they can follow this is a mystery that Crotchety Man doesn’t even dare to consider.

“It pays to keep an open mind, but not so open your brains fall out.”

― Carl Sagan

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Girdik

union chapel, empty


We entered the draughty hall in silence. “What do you think ‘Diz?”, I said to my companion. He looked up at the vaulted ceiling and gazed for a moment at the stained glass windows. He paced down the aisle and stepped up onto the stage. He clapped his hands, twice; the sound bounced back at us like gunshots echoing in an Arizona canyon. A smile spread slowly across his face and he nodded slowly. “It will do”, he said, in English. That was his understated translation of ‘съвършен’, the word for ‘perfect’ in his native Bulgarian language.


Ediz Hafizoğlu

Ediz Hafizoğlu is a jazz drummer now living in Turkey. His band’s latest album, “Nazdrave” 13, was released a couple of weeks ago and the opening track came up in my Spotify listening this week. It’s called Girdik, which is Turkish for “we entered”. I couldn’t find Girdik on YouTube but there are studio and live versions of Cereyanlı (“draughty”) from an earlier album called just Nazdrave (“cheers” in Bulgarian). If, like me, you have never heard of mister Hafizoğlu before try one of these as a taster (studio or live, it’s your choice).

‘Draughty’: could there be a more appropriate name for a tune built around a relaxed horn section? But the Hafizoğlu band doesn’t just do breezy instrumentals. There’s a song called Mila on the earlier Nazdrave album that takes us into World music territory with a female vocal ensemble. Then there’s Eye of a Hurricane, a sweet lounge song with a solo singer, this time in English. And Girdik itself has some rocking guitar licks that remind me of David Gilmour.

It would have been unfair on Ediz Hafizoğlu to give you just one sample track; he is more versatile than that. So here’s a playlist by way of introduction.


It was draughty the first time we came here but now, packed with eager listeners, the old chapel is cosy and welcoming. Yes, it will do very well for a concert. In fact, it feels съвършен, my friend.


union chapel

The Black Rock

antarctic ice

March came in with an icy blast here in the UK. We had 10 – 20 cm of snow, much of the country’s transport system ground to a halt and some unfortunate motorists got stuck on a Scottish motorway for eight hours. It was all due to “the beast from the east” – a weather pattern that drew extremely cold air from Siberia across mainland Europe and over the North Sea to chill the bones of the British people. The beast didn’t stay long but this weekend he wagged his tail again and some parts of the country have had freezing temperatures and more snow showers. So I thought it was time to feature a track by the Scottish group, The Cauld Blast Orchestra, in these pages.

You won’t find the Cauld Blast on streaming sites. There are a few videos on YouTube, all uploaded by a member of the band, Steve Kettley. Those videos are live recordings with less than perfect sound quality and intrusive text captions added by the video recorder. They serve as an archive of the band’s performances but they don’t do full justice to the 8-piece orchestra. So Crotchety Man has had a go at making a YouTube video from his copy of an album the band released in 1994. Here’s The Black Rock from Durga’s Feast.

I think I must have picked up the CD at the end of a concert but, frankly, I don’t remember the occasion at all now. Certainly, I was not familiar with the band before buying the shiny round disc in the standard jewel case. Steve Kettley’s website describes Cauld Blast‘s music as a “heady mix of jazz, folk, classical and rock, not to mention the odd tango or march for good measure”. That sounds like an event for the local arts centre and that’s probably where this seeker of all things weird (wonderful or not) stumbled upon them.

Between them the eight members of the band play nearly all the instruments in a modern orchestra: violin, cello, flute, clarinet, tenor horn, tuba and piano all feature on Durga’s Feast. Whistle, concertina, accordion and mandolin add folk music sounds to the mix. Then there are saxophones, bass guitar, drums and assorted percussion to spice up the tunes with a little jazz. Notable by their absence are guitars and vocals. The rock element sneaks in surreptitiously in the pulsing rhythms of the compositions.

The Black Rock, though, is a quiet instrumental; “the gentle side of the Cauld Blast” to quote Kettley again. It’s a piece for piano, violin and clarinet that ambles along in a contented 5-time, just the thing for looking out onto snow-covered fields from a comfortable armchair in a snug room. Come, sit beside me and together we will laugh at the mini-beast as it sidles off to bring shivers to some other part of the world.

cauld blast orchestra, trimmed

A Kaleidoscope of Rainbows

rainbow stars

Before we get into the new year in earnest here’s a belated Album of the Month post originally scheduled for December 2017. The album in question is called A Kaleidoscope of Rainbows and it was one of my first forays into the hinterlands of jazz.

I must have bought this record in the late seventies before CDs were invented and long before the Internet became available to the ordinary citizen. It was a time when good new music was hard to find and Crotchety Man had to resort to speculative purchases to satisfy his cravings. The Kaleidoscope was just such a leap in the dark. Although ‘dark’ is a rather peculiar word to use for an album whose title describes shifting multi-coloured shapes reflected in a mirrored tube held up to the light.

It was the record cover that compelled the plunge into the unknown. On the front there was a shimmering rainbow galaxy viewed through a mysterious wisp of smoke. It is still one of my favourite pieces of album artwork. Although, looking at it again today, I wonder what the dark foreground shape might be: the silhouette of a human body, a near-Earth asteroid or just a potato waiting for the chipper and the deep fat fryer?

In contrast, the back cover was almost entirely monochrome, consisting mainly of black text on white paper listing the tracks and musicians, carrying the copyright notices and giving a little information about Neil Ardley, the composer, and the compositions on the disc. Intriguingly the inspiration for the album came from a form of Balinese gamelan music, which uses a five note scale. The seven main tracks on the album emerged from Ardley’s exploration of this scale. (There was probably also something about rainbows but I no longer have the vinyl and haven’t been able to check.)

Among the musicians the names of Barbara Thompson and Ian Carr stood out. They were both well respected jazz instrumentalists and their contributions served to reassure Crotchety Man that this record would not disappoint. So, on the strength of the artwork, the blurb and the personnel, the Kaleidoscope was added to my small collection of LPs. And it sparkled like bright sunbeams reflected in falling drops of rain.

dots

The Kaleidoscope of Rainbows is an album that begs to be played all the way through, from Prologue, through the seven Rainbows to the Epilogue. Like a box of tasty chocolates one bite is never enough and it’s impossible to play one track without drooling over the others. Some tunes are soft and soothing, others have a certain funky piquancy. None are bitter. All are food for the soul.

Unlike chocolates this album has no ‘best before’ date; it sounds as good today as it did 40 years ago. And, fortunately, you can’t overdose on rainbows.

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Earthworks/All Heaven …

fall of rebel angels

All heaven breaks loose on Earth’s sordid works

Sit up straight and pay attention, everyone, because if you don’t what follows will be terribly confusing. For this Album of the Month piece I’m going to review two albums by Bill Bruford’s Earthworks. Yes, Smithers minor, this is cheating but it provides a partial solution to a difficult problem. You see, I am very familiar with All Heaven Let Loose and I really want to blog about it but I can only find one track from that album anywhere online (see below).

So, what to do? Well, there is exactly one Earthworks album on my favoured streaming service and it matches All Heaven … for style, quality and inventiveness. That album is called Earthworks. (You see why this might get confusing?) Here’s My Heart Declares a Holiday from the band’s first, eponymous album, the one with the big ‘E’ on the cover.

This particular track has an almost latin beat to it, which sets it apart from everything else on the Earthworks album. In all other respects, though, it is typical of both albums. Django Bates swaps effortlessly between keyboards and tenor horn, Iain Ballamy adds soulful saxophones, Mick Hutton anchors the ship on double bass and Bill Bruford sits at acoustic and electronic drums in the engine room. All four players lock unerringly into the beat, even when it deliberately skips and stutters for rhythmic effect.

In contrast, the title track from All Heaven Broke Loose is a melodic piece in two parts: Psalm and Old Song. I don’t think you’ll find the psalm in a psalter or the old song in any hymn book but I can’t deny that the instruments sing as sweetly as a church choir. On this track Bill Bruford’s chordal drums prove that percussive instruments can carry a melody, too.

Those two tracks mark opposite sides of the Earthworks repertoire. In between there are delightful tunes, pulsing grooves and inventive riffs. If Frank Zappa’s band were the mothers of invention then Bill Bruford’s Earthworks must be their jazzier children. There’s nothing quite like the scintillating horn and saxophone duets by Ballamy and Bates, both ex-members of the legendary Loose Tubes jazz orchestra. The bass playing of Mick Hutton (on Earthworks) or Tim Harries (on All Heaven …) simultaneously holds the sound together and drives it on. And there’s no better exponent of electronic and acoustic drum kits than Bruford himself, rock drummer turned jazz percussionist.

Of the two albums, Earthworks is the more rhythmic, solid and earthy, All Heaven … the more melodic, dreamy and heavenly. Both are very fine examples of the jazz fusion genre and fully worthy of the Album of the Month slot in these pages.

Earthworks (the album) was released in 1987, All Heaven … in 1991. In between, Earthworks (the band) released Dig?, an album that Crotchety Man is not familiar with. If you want to hear more from that late eighties/early nineties period there are a few YouTube videos of live shows. This one is a bit low in volume but otherwise of decent quality.

Now, class, I’m setting a test to see if you were paying attention as I asked.

Question 1: Which band have we been discussing?

Question 2: Which two albums have I been talking about?

Question 3: What makes these albums so enjoyable?

Question 4: There is no question 4. You may now leave the room.

Quietly, boys! The other classes may not have finished yet.

Tears in Heaven

eye in the sky

While idly browsing the Web the other day, with my Release Radar playing in the background, my thoughts were hijacked by a bluesy bass solo. I knew immediately that it was something by Colin Hodgkinson. It had to be him because nobody plays bass like Colin Hodgkinson. Switching to the Spotify window I saw the track was called Tears in Heaven and the artist was listed as Kinga Głyk. The anomaly detector in my head said, “Hmm, that’s odd” and in a reflex action that a computer hacker would be proud of the fingers steered the mouse over to the artist’s name and clicked.

Kinga Głyk it turns out is an astonishingly young and accomplished Polish bass player with her own band; according to her website she is still only 20. Her version of Tears in Heaven is a cover of Jeff Berlin’s solo bass arrangement of the well-known Eric Clapton song inspired (if that’s the right word) by the death of his four year old son, Conor, in 1991. Here’s the original:

And this is Jeff Berlin’s interpretation from his Taking Notes album:

I must confess Jeff Berlin sounds a lot like Colin Hodgkinson here. And readers may remember that I compared Tal Wilkenfeld (another young, female bass player) with Jeff Berlin a few posts ago. So it seems I was wrong when I said that no-one plays bass like Colin Hodgkinson.

On the streets of London it’s said that you wait half an hour for a bus and then three come at once. I’m beginning to wonder if that’s just one example of a much deeper universal law. Jeff Berlin, Tal Wilkenfeld and now Kinga Głyk arrived at Crotchety Man’s stop on the Spotify music-go-round in swift succession. Take a ride on the third in line, where it’s less crowded, take a seat at the front and watch the lady with the hat and the nimble fingers. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Kinga Głyk:

As yet there is no Wikipedia page for Kinga Głyk and much of the information that is available is in Polish. The band’s website, however, let’s you choose English or Polish and there’s plenty of useful information there. That site lists four albums, one by Głyk P.I.K. Trio from 2013 called Released At Last, and three further albums by the Kinga Głyk band: Rejestracja (2015), Happy Birthday Live (2016) and Dreams (2017). Of those the last three are on Spotify and carry the Crotchety ‘highly commended’ rosette.

The music on those albums is jazz fusion with a strong blues heritage. Many of the pieces were composed by Kinga Głyk herself although there are covers, too, including tunes by Charlie Parker and Weather Report.

There may be a few tears in heaven but they can easily be fixed with a needle, some thread and a few lightning fingers.