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Tron Theatre, 25th June 2010

By now, Keith Tippett and the Burt-MacDonald Quintet have worked together often enough to sound like a unified sextet, not merely a quintet plus guest. Some of their earlier collaborations began with a solo set from Tippett, but this time round he played with the band throughout.

They’re one of the more distinctive groups around, playing an idiosyncratic mix of catchy melodies and uncompromising free improvisation which gives them a character unlike any other band. Some pieces they introduced as “tunes” and others as “free improvisations”, but they always made these seemingly incompatible styles fit together.

Nicola MacDonald sometimes sings or plays percussion, but this time she stuck to melodica all the way through. It’s maybe not the most agile of instruments, but it was very effective, providing a chordal drone which freed Tippett and guitarist George Burt to play intricate single note lines. Half way through the set, Tippett put various items on the piano strings and played prepared piano in a trio with bassist George Lyle and drummer Tom Bancroft. Because of the way he’d positioned them he was able to produce a harpsichord-like sound with one hand and a more conventional piano sound from the other. Raymond MacDonald, who now seems to be making a name for himself on the wider improv scene, mainly played alto, only occasionally switching to soprano sax.

Overall this was a very good gig (although I accept that they’re probably not everyone’s cup of tea), but unfortunately it was also a very short one at just over an hour. I came out having enjoyed the music but also feeling slightly short-changed.

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