At this moment in time, aging is an unsightly beast to face. One has to deal with worldwide known issues, as well as private ones including the progressive loss of personal heroes, never easy to accept as a logical process. In the instance of this writer, Keith Tippett’s premature departure in 2020 deprived him of a veritable guiding light for many aspects of music-making that fall under a high spiritual category. The same thought seems to be shared by Howard Riley, his equally outstanding piano companion, who introduces this superb CD recalling his meeting with Tippett in 1968 by saying simply: “I could tell straight away that he was going to be great”. Not a truer word, as this 2016 performance at the PizzaExpress Jazz Club in Soho, London, demonstrates. For both, make no mistake. Journal Four, as per its title, comes after the triplet of In Focus (Affinity, 1985), The Bern Concert (FMR, 1994), and First Encounter (Jazzprint, released in 2001 but containing their inaugural duet, in 1985).

The set is broken up into three parts, Tippett and Riley journeying as soloists in the first two before pairing in the third and longest segment at almost 47 minutes. A reviewer already skeptical of the effectiveness of words as a form of communication would immediately see the futility of a step-by-step explanation of what is happening. On the contrary, a quasi-unconscious immersion in the interplay is especially fascinating, although we’re still allowed to identify the unique characteristics of the respective styles and observe how they organically meld together despite the evident variations in approach and inspirations.

Speaking of the latter, Riley and Tippett honor their own tutelary deities, with specific reference to Charles Mingus and Thelonious Monk, by incorporating bits and quotes into currents of touching insights marked by resonant reflections of all kinds. Stellar chordal work, thematic cross-pollination and turbulent whirlwinds are occasionally complemented by minor preparations (and, for a very short frame, a barely surfacing music box). This serves to remind us of these gentlemen’s genius as performers of instantaneous compositions and creators of states of utter trance. In the presence of two pianos being played by masters, this would appear to be an obvious outcome. Riley’s method combines strength and finesse, and one may sit and relish the material for hours while keeping in mind Richard Williams’ perfect description of Tippett’s “upper-register spirals and double-helixes in which each note, however brief its life, has a diamond-like sparkle”.

Only the deep listener, though, who is engaged in a quest that does not prioritize the exhibition of an alleged “knowledge” but instead leads to an improvement of the innermost core, will be able to realize how much “that” kind of resonance can in turn influence mood, perceptual acuity, and — in general — attitude towards reality. The fact is, there are decreasingly less opportunities for caring for one’s ears and spirit in today’s sick-brained world. Therefore, the chance should surely not be passed up when it arises to concentrate on true “comprovisational” art, currently on the point of extinction at these levels of profundity and experience. By releasing this document, NoBusiness did all of us a huge favor in that regard.