“A Review of Jazz Saxophonist Johnny Lippiett’s New Album, Soulscape
Posted in: Musicouching by Steve Newman on June 7, 2010
Over the years certain Jazz albums stick with you. Think of Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue, Mingus Ahem by Charles Mingus, John Coltane’s The John Coltrane Quartet, Phase III by the Don Rendell/Ian Carr Quintet, Duke Ellington’s Blues in Orbit, John Dankworth’s What The Dickens, and not least Tubby Hayes’s ground-breaking Down in the Village.
And now there’s another one that can be added to that list: Johnny Lippiett’s Soulscape.
After a longish spell in New Zealand Johnny Lippiett recently settled in Brooklyn where, with Billy Drummond (drums) – and that’s good name for a drummer – Ron McClure (bass), and Mike Eckroth (piano), he has started to record some extraordinary jazz.
On first listening to Soulscape I only got as far as track 5 – The Death of Melisande – which is an improvisation around Jean Sibelius’s 1905 suite Pelléaset Mélisande – based on a play by Maeterlinck – which is a wonderfully atmospheric eight minutes (which I listened to repeatedly, and still do) that somehow manages to shift the whole idea of jazz into another realm in the way Stan Tracey did with his 1965 Under Milk Wood suite, where the symbiosis of Dylan Thomas’s often alliterative poetry, and not least the tenor sax playing of Bobby Wellins, built something quite new.
Although he has been influenced by many players – not least John Coltrane in the early days, but then who wasn’t – Johnny has, more importantly, rediscovered not so much how sax players such as Bobby Wellins, Ronnie Scott, Don Rendell and Tubby Hayes – and many another – played as individuals, but how they collectively sculptured the sound of the tenor sax, which changed just about everything to do with the music.
Johnny Lippiett has taken those very cultured, very sculptured 1960s tenor sax sounds to create a much more laid-back feel than many of his contemporaries: a sound that is similar, but also very different to the fiery one I heard all those years ago in Devon when he was blasting away like Alan Skidmore wired to the mains. What we have now is an extremely mature player – who’s still capable of knocking the odd head or two off those sculptured sounds when required – whose many musical interests – not least Jean Sibelius – are filling his playing and composing.
And on Soulscape there are four masterful pieces of Lippiett composition that are not just vehicles for improvisation but melodic pieces of music that could work in any musical form, most notably, for me, Zinta’s Tune, which is a beautifully waltzy piece that includes one of the most accomplished small group piano solos – from Mike Eckroth – I’ve heard in many years.
There’s also an assured rendition of American saxist Bobby Timmons’s tune, Damned if I Know, which is Johnny’s take on hard bop, and is again a great vehicle for Eckroth, but also for the superb bass playing of Ron McClure, who spars sure-fingeredly with the elegant drumming of Billy Drummond.
Now that Johnny lives in Brooklyn maybe he should take a look at the poetry of Walt Whitman who deserves, like Thomas, a good jazz makeover?
Soulscape is a classic album in the making.
To buy go to Johnny Lippiett”
- Steve Newman
“Johnny Lippiett at Boater's Jazz Club Review
Venue: Boater's Jazz Club
Gig: Johnny Lippiett Summer Jazz Grooves @ Boaters
Gig date: 9th August 2009
Posted on 17th September 2009 by RickStar
Jazz is a funny old thing really. In essence a jazz gig is kind of like a gig by a covers band ... it's just that the covers (or standards as they are called in 'jazz-speak') are from a fairly wide range of musicians, and indeed even an extensive time period. This is in no way meant to belittle a jazz gig - by my reckoning, on my Spotify playlist I have a fairly definitive collection of about 40 Jazz standards.
There are, give or take, at least three dozen official standards and at least half a dozen 'extras' that jazz musos are required to know. What IS amazing about a jazz gig, especially at the kind of standard that the audience has come to expect at Boaters, is that the jazz standards enable the musicians to get together and play a top class gig pretty much without a rehearsal. And of course the other unique thing about jazz is that the jazz standards are really only a framework and that by jazz's very nature of improvisation, solos and sheer unpredictability ... you usually end up with something pretty special. And that's what we got from Johnny Lippiett and his jazz comrades.
Jazz standards aside ... there's nothing 'standard' about Lippiett. A swinging and melodic tenor saxophonist, JL has been a finalist in the Young Jazz Musician of the year (back in 1996) which led him to play with Courtney Pine and become well known on the London jazz scene. A truly international musician, he has since lived in New Zealand where he became a jazz tutor in Wellington, as well as playing gigs all over Australia and New Zealand. In more recent years he has relocated to New York where he has been enjoying great success performing at the city's famous jazz clubs - from Brooklyn, to Soho and the East Village. Lippiett - on a rare visit back to the UK - was joined by Boaters' stalwart keyboard-player Simon Carter, Mark Hodgson on stand-up bass and up-and-coming jazz drummer, Chris Dagley.
Carter - a solid gold piano player who has toured with the likes of JK & Jamiroqua - gave his usual assured performance as both jazz heavy-weight & genial host. Carter is partly responsible for the jazz legend that is Boaters, home to one of the longest running weekly jazz residencies in London and the South East. Largely by his efforts, this Sunday night jazz institution is coming up to its second decade of playing host to some of the biggest names on the contemporary jazz circuit - including some of the UK's best home-grown talents.
Mark Hodgdon stood in as jazz anchor; a solid & unpretentious, if unflamboyant stand up bass player. Hodgson's calm repose seemed to throw into exciting relief the antics of his partner in the jazz 'engine room' - the indefatigable Chris Dagley. Dagley's drumming accompanied by a Tom Waits-esque gurning and much showmanship, really showcased some incredible jazz drumming, reminscent of jazz greats such as Buddy Rich (or my favourite drummer of all time, 'Animal' from the Muppet Show!) In jazz circles Dagley is getting a reputation as THE drummer to play with; after his finale solo it was easy to see why.
Dagley aside, JL stole the show - his virtuoso performance seeming to shape and re-define the well-established jazz standards and make them seem well ... non-standard. The assured swagger of this young jazzmeister - who's a regular fixture of the East Village jazz scene in NYC - made an impression on the crowd at once with his fresh, inventive and above all exciting take on standards such as Duke Ellington's Sweet Georgia Brown and Miles Davis' So What?
Lippiett has been know to quote "There's no money in jazz - even in New York!" Yet despite this (or maybe because of it!) Lippiett brings plenty of attitude to his playing. When Lippiett is blowing up a storm, his face contorts and he puts every ounce of his being through that reed. With JL in full-flow it's easy to remember that jazz was the punk rock of its day, complete with bad-boy image and a long history of wild parties and hard drug abuse. Sometimes it's hard to imagine that these days - with the audience, and even the bands themselves, usually consisting of goatee-bearded, turtle-neck wearing, real-ale supping old jazz gentlemen. Somehow JL and his band re-inject some of this punk rock energy into the jazz standards - the average age of both the band and the audience was mid-30s rather than mid-60s (although I will admit there weres till a few jazz gentlemen nodding their heads along to the beat).
After the gig I got to thinking, if the new breed of classical musicians such as the much-fêted James Rhodes can bring a 'rockstar' edge to classical music and thereby bring it to newer, younger audiences, could Johnny Lippiett and his contemporaries bring about the same sea-change in jazz? After all playing Bach and Beethoven concertos, is much the same as playing the jazz standards ... it's all about interpretation and performance. If JL, Carter, Dagley and Co are setting the new standard – then a jazz renaissance might not be too far out of the question.
Spotify PlayList - Jazz Standards
Wikipedia Article - Jazz Standards
Jazz @ Boaters
- Rick Star