The First Full Turn
Emanem / 4026

Paul Rutherford / trombone, voice, Julie Tippett / voice, thumb piano, Keith Tippett / piano, bells, maracas, Paul Rogers / bass

This is, as the name suggests, a document of the first “official” performance by Rottor, as opposed to Rotor, the same group without Julie Tippett. An added bonus — beyond the call of duty, what with track one being over fifty minutes long — is a solo turn by Rutherford from a couple of months earlier.

For anyone who is expecting something like what the Tippetts do in duet, this might come as a bit of a shock. Here, you get none of the resounding great rythmic structures they seem to like to much, the pianist’s resolutely un-jazzy ostinati underpinning ad lib melodic lines by his wife. Instead, this finds both musicians working in more volatile surroundings, quickly moving from idea to idea and allowing the flow of the music to carry them. Now and again, a stentorian quick-march from the prepared piano coaxes the vocals into those arching, delicate melodies, but nothing hangs around for long in this group; blink and, as ever, it’s gone.

It’s hardly surprising that Rutherford seems to have been the one who brought up the idea of expanding the group to include the vocalist on a permanent basis (she’d made up the trio on one occasion when Rogers was indisposed). The two of them communicate with wonderful clarity, although of course there’s no question of parrotting one another’s ideas. One of the most important singers around, and one of the most innovative trombonists, they both have strong identities and yet they find considerable common ground here. When the sparks fly, it’s exciting music indeed.

It’s a continuous performance, but the piece does, like many improvisations of this length, break down into sections, which is a relief for the listener but which shouldn’t come as a surprise. All four are veteran improvisors, and at least two of them have had the opportunity to show they can manage a long stretch of time in a solo setting before now. Paul Rogers, however, should get special mention here, as his muscular bass (captured in all its woody splendour here) rolls and cajoles the music forwards. It’s hard for bass players to really make a lasting mark in this music, and Rogers doesn’t have a bag full of gimmicks to help him along, but he’s a totally committed player and it’s a shame he’s not heard more often.

Rutherford’s solo set is nicely gimmick-free, too. He has nothing to prove any more and, unlike so many young turks, he matured and found he had something to say instead. “Another Solo Turn” is a twelve-minute rumination on melodic possibilities, the difficulty of creating a line which feels like a line but isn’t hackneyed. As a result, it’s completely in tune with what precedes it. With carefully-crafted steps, Rutherford constructs surprising melody after surprising melody. Making no small nod to the military tradition, he wraps up an hour and a bit of passionate, linear improvisation. Richard Cochrane