Julie Tippetts & Martin Archer: Illusion

Singer Tippetts and company confront the eternal question of truth and illusion with blues-shot and freshly swinging power


This is the music I recommended in June, at the end of my review of Archer’s Shamanic Insurgency with fellow Combat Astronomy member James Huggett. It’s the first release in six years from the long-established duo of Archer and Julie Tippetts. And boy, is it good. No: not good, but rather, utterly marvellous.

A cornucopia of blues-shot and freshly swinging power, intellectual stimulation and, overall, sheer aural delight, the music is presented on two CDs, both focusing on the eternal question of truth and illusion through the archetypal metaphor of “The Magic Circus”. The first CD is presented as a continuous experience while the second has 13 discrete tracks.

Each CD features original, excellent lyrics, printed in the rich and generous packaging. Tippetts is present throughout and is in terrific form. Whether she is interpreting the lyrics, scatting, or digging deep into unclassifiable realms of vocal poetics, the clarity and range of her now impassioned, now intimate and reflective sound and phrasing consistently hit the spot, enhanced at various times by diversely conceived passages of multi-tracking and shifts in tempo.

The quickest way to convey some idea of the shape-shifting rhythmic magnetism of the initial Illusion Suite CD is to recall the vamping long forms of Davis’s In A Silent Way and then imagine them transformed by the sort of musical and technological alchemy of which the multivalent Archer has long been a master. The sound of the music is big and then some, with many a classic aspect of jazz sound, phrasing and dynamics present in all their archetypal emotional potency.

The complementary Illusion – Circle Of Whispers on CD2 is equally compelling. Compare the pumping affirmation of the funky and driving Illusion with the sparely wrought and soulful inwardness of Water Message / The Sun Goddess’s Mirror and the floating and soaring musings of Between Mountains. For further examples of the richness to be relished, marvel at the cross-rhythms and pulsing energy of Blade Juggler, the gliding “art music” mysteries of Aquabat, and the various modulations in Elephant Rider (where Archer’s baritone shines) from a deep, slow and heavy groove to passages of the most aching rubato tenderness.

There isn’t space here to note the many superb contributions from the various individuals and groups present on Circle Of Whispers. However, as with Illusion Suite, a glance at the personnel will suffice to indicate the quality of the playing, arrangements and overall imagination which ignite this exceptional music. Bravo!

CD1: Illusion Suite: Chances; Less; Never As They Seem; Pandemonium; Magic Man; Bare-Back Rider; Turn It Around (74.31)
CD2: Illusion – Circle Of Whispers: Illusion; Water Message / The Sun / Goddess’s Mirror; Between Mountains; Trapeze; Sea Sapphire; Sword Swallower; Elephant Rider; Dancing On Air; Aquabat; Big Cat Tamer; Blade Juggler; Fortune-Teller; Movin’ On (Dismantling The Big Top) (67.34)
CD1: Tippetts (v); Archer (kyb, elec, radio waves, s, cl), Charlotte Keeffe (t, flh); George Murray (tb); Anton Hunter (elg, loops, elec); Corey Mwamba (vib, wf); Seth Bennett (b); Peter Fairclough (d); James Archer, Mark Hadman, Michael Harding, Herve Perez, Chris Trent (elec); Paul Schatzberger (vn); Aby Vulliamy (vla); Angela Rosenfeld (clo).
CD2: Tippetts (v); Archer (kyb, elec, ww) with small groups drawn from: BJ Cole (pedal steel g); Laura Cole (p); Steve Dinsdale (elec d); Peter Fairclough (d, pc); Liz Hanks (clo); Anton Hunter (elg, loops, elec); George Murray (tb); Nick Robinson (g, elg); Angela Rosenfeld (clo); Paul Schatzberger (vn); Simmy Singh (vn, vla); Michael Somerset (shaman pc); Aby Vulliamy (vla). England c. 2015-21.
Discus 131CD