Putting A Fresh Ear To Keith And Julie Tippett

Nostalgia 77 Sessions featuring Keith and Julie Tippett

hide captionUnder the moniker of Nostalgia 77, Benedic Lamdin looks back at Keith and Julie Tippett's classic sound, but still finds a way forward.

Courtesy of TruThoughts

For the past week, my obsession has been a curious album by Nostalgia 77, aka producer Benedic Lamdin. Never heard of him? Neither had I, but the names associated with the latest Nostalgia 77 Sessions certainly grabbed my attention: Keith and Julie Tippett (or Keith Tippett and Julie Tippetts, if you want to get technical). After just a few tracks, I was ready to call it my favorite jazz album of 2009 so far. But let's back up first, eh?

Having started out as a '60s pop singer, Julie Driscoll met and soon married pianist Keith Tippett in the early '70s. Since then, the husband-and-wife duo have explored the outer realms of jazz and free improvisation, most notably on the stunning Sunset Glow (1976), a folky jazz record fleshed out by some of the finest improvisers of the Canterbury scene.

Lamdin came to their music like most do: when a friend played him a record. Keith Tippett's Septober Energy was a 50-person project for progressive rock band called Centipede. That 1971 record is a bit of a mess, though often a beautiful one, especially when Julie sings.

In recent years, the Tippetts' live performances haven't slowed, but recorded documents have been slim, or at least difficult to come by. Producer Lamdin notes that he didn't set out to re-create the duo's '70s records, though it is curious that he works under the Nostalgia 77 name. Instead, these sessions are a fruitful continuation of the classic Tippett sound that moves forward as much as it looks back. For an example, you needn't look further than the Julie-penned "Rainclouds," a modal chant that builds around a short lyric line, slowly inviting Keith's circular piano and the rest of the relatively young band in a slinky blues cuff.

"Rainclouds," from Nostalgia 77 Sessions Featuring Keith and Julie Tippett. Julie Tippett, vocals; Keith Tippett; piano; Riann Vosloo, bass; Adem Sorensen, drums; Gary Boyle, guitar; Mark Hanslip, tenor saxophone; Fulvio Sigurta, trumpet. Red Kite Studios, Wales.

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The role of the modern modern jazz producer, after the jump.

All this got me thinking about the notion of the modern jazz producer. Off the top of my head, not many influential names come to mind. The role left vacant by such heavy-hitters as Norman Granz, Bob Thiele and Alfred Lion are now filled to a lesser degree by record label owners, who, at least in the free/avant-garde jazz realm, often let the musicians do as they please. And occasionally, musicians themselves fill this role, like Matthew Shipp's involvement in Thirsty Ear's Blue Series. In my mind, this is how most free jazz productions should happen.

But I don't know if the success of the Nostalgia 77 Sessions could have happened without a tasteful producer guiding the way. Keith and Julie Tippett are brilliant talents, but sometimes it just takes a fresh set of ears to mold something greater than the efforts of the musicians combined. I've yet to hear anything else produced by Nostalgia 77 — most of his work up until now has been in the electronic music field. But I can't help but wonder what else he could bring to the table.

In fact, I wonder what someone like Danger Mouse could do with soul-jazz Hammond B-3 organist Dr. Lonnie Smith, or what Portishead's Adrian Utley might create with Steve Reid. What other dream producer-musician collaborations should pair up?

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