Keith & Julie Tippett

Couple in Spirit

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The pairing of Keith and Julie Tippett on a recording always causes anticipation; the duo's potential for provocative surprise is seemingly endless. But even so, nothing could have prepared listeners for Couple in Spirit. Far from the hallmarks of jazz or the harsher extremes of free improvisation, CIS is in a sense an eight-part suite that begins with intention, moves through incantation and journey, and finally returns as transformation. The Tippetts use the passage of a single day as a metaphor. They begin with the softly chanted "Daybreak," accompanied by bottles, shakers, and the plucked and strummed insides of the piano. The slip and slip of Julie's voice as it hovers and floats and Keith's as it shores up the lower end as counterpoint are lovely together as interplay. They hold forth that everything is possible at the start of the day, and indeed possibilities breed occurrence. They move through a pair of tracks -- "Morning Psalm" and "Brimstone Spring Lullaby" -- where Julie's voice explores the sonic inventions of Keith's inside the piano playing, or as on the latter track, the incantory resonance of her own voice courtesy of Robert Fripp's multi-tracking. After "Evening Psalm," the record begins to turn and the invention of language becomes paramount to the pair's internal communication in both mood and feeling. By the time listeners reach "The Choir and the Sunset Improvisers," where Keith's piano is dancing full through the high alto reaches of Julie's wordless singing, they are in some kind of dance with this music -- alive and blind and open to whatever it offers. By the recordings end, listeners have traveled the deep spiritual and naturalist passageways of a different kind of improvisation. Like all music it relies on dynamic, notions of rhythm, and perhaps in places even harmony, but it goes further and establishes a place for all of those things to bleed into one another. It creates a space for the nuance of musical language, of improvisational sonic poetry where outcome rests exclusively on what gets discovered in the process and is offered nakedly and humbly back to the listener that way. This is a remarkable recording. Couple in Spirit is among the duo's best recordings. It ends with the shimmering ambiguity of "Grey Mist With Yellow Waterfall Entwines Evening Turquoise" in a marriage of bells, piano, harpsichord, bottles, a recorder and shakers with Julie's vocals. The effect is of a rite being concluded, the shaman's journeying concluded, and an offering made to the spirits for safe travel and wondrous revelations. Who knows what the Tippetts intended here, but it doesn't matter. This is music that has to be felt through as well as listened to; its subtleties offer themselves only after repeated listening when they become powerful spiritual incentives to delve more deeply into the text and journey along. Magnificent.

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