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Tippett/Grew/Riley/Thomas: Pianoforte

Andrey Henkin By

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The impetus for this album came from a meeting between pianists Stephen Grew and Keith Tippett at a London club. What resulted was a live concert from 2003 documenting a piano recital that included Grew, Tippett, Pat Thomas, and Howard Riley.

The format of the album is straightfoward, if the music is far from it. Grew takes a long solo turn; he is then joined for two short duos with Thomas. Grew departs, leaving Thomas to make his own unaccompanied statement. Then the proceedings are given over to the elder statesmen: extended solos each by Tippett and Riley and then finally a commanding duo between these two giants of classically-inspired English improvisation.

British avant-garde music is usually considered the province of its many fine saxophonists. And given the many big bands active in England, many of them had the chance to play together often, strengthening the brotherhood. The pianists had no such opportunities. Despite the number of accomplished ones (Gordon Beck, Peter Lemer, John Taylor, Stan Tracey, Mike Westbrook, etc.), they all worked in de facto vacuums, never creating a tradition akin the one obvious to the saxophone. A fascinating development of this is that each English pianist sounds nothing like his counterparts—Tippett is romantic, Taylor neo-classical, Riley baroque.

After years of working apart, Tippett and Riley began working in duo (Tippett also worked in tandem with Tracey). Two years ago, a fabulous album was released by Tippett and Riley with fellow Brit pianist John Tilbury. Pianoforte, though, is a different beast. Firstly, Grew and Thomas are much more firmly ensconced in the classical side of European improvising. There is not a blues or boogie-woogie lick to be found here. And unlike the Germans, this music is dense without being overwrought; there remains a certain elegance or British restraint. Even together, there is respect given to the other's space. The pieces with Tippett and Riley are more transcendent, a mixture of experience and weightier concepts. Tippett and Riley may be the two most accomplished solo pianists this side of Cecil Taylor—and together or apart, they work wonders. Tippett's solo is full of the many stylistic jaunts for which he is known. Riley's will confound you for days. Their duo is as perfect a statement as two pianos can make.

Track Listing: 1. Magnesium (Grew solo) 11.24; 2. Shifty lad one (Grew & Thomas) 5.35; 3. Shifty lad two (Grew & Thomas) 6.25; 4. Burnt (Thomas solo) 6.41; 5. Just trust (Tippett solo) 18.19; 6. Before the storm (Riley solo) 13.22; 7. Point of delivery (Riley & Tippett) 16.21

Personnel: Keith Tippet, Howard Riley, Stephen Grew, Pat Thomas - Piano

Title: Pianoforte | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Slam Records

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