in performance: tipple

tipple: david watson, frode gjerstad and kevin norton.

tipple: david watson, frode gjerstad and kevin norton.

The call to arms for Tipple last night at the Farish Theater of the downtown Lexington Public Library was a simple tap on a gong. It was perhaps the most orderly thing about a performance that would quickly scatter and migrate to parts unknown. But it was also hard not to view this percussive prelude as a dinner bell of sorts because it signaled, in jazz terms, that vittles were waiting.

Tipple is the alliance of veteran Norwegian saxophonist and clarinetist Frode Gjerstad (a veteran of many locally produced concerts in the Outside the Spotlight series, of which this show was also part of), New Zealander-turned-New York guitarist David Watson and Brooklyn-born drummer/vibraphonist/percussionist Kevin Norton. Last night, the three sifted through solos and group exchanges during a 50 minute long improvisation which worked as a suite of ideas with continual shifts in temperament and instrumentation. A brief five-minute palette cleanser of a trio skirmish ended the set.

What flowed forth during that time was steeped in untitled, open improvisation that downplayed volume (although there were claps of dissonant thunder) to emphasize dynamics, tension and a little grace.

Gjerstad is a pro at this. Last night, his runs on clarinet and alto saxophone were like elongated chants – subtle in tone, studied in execution and, ultimately, confident in the way they were dispatched and placed within Tipple’s spacious and unhurried sound.

Watson stuck exclusively to guitar, leaving his other primary instrument, the Highland bagpipes, out of the Tipple mix. Toying with brittle riffs and broader colors of distortion, his guitar work intensified the overall trio sound and its natural and sometimes volcanic sense of invention. Watching him pick singular notes on one guitar while tapping another with a mallet to create percussive cool late in the performance was especially intriguing.

Norton proved to be Tipple’s ace-in-the-hole. Creating sounds icy and ominous on the vibraphone (with four mallets or, in select instances, a stringed bow), punctuating the trio’s terser strides on a drum kit or adding to its lighter ambience with delicate chatter on triangles mounted on a music stand, he kept Tipple in state of continual and unpredictable motion.



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