Centipede was a 50-piece jazz-rock orchestra assembled late in 1970 by pianist Keith Tippett (b. 1947) in order to perform his large-scale conceptual work Septober Energy. Made up of a core of musicians drawn from Tippett's own band and the orbit of the Soft Machine and King Crimson, and augmented by various established professional players (including solid jazz men like Alan Skidmore) and student musicians, the group didn't sound quite like anything else to come out of the progressive rock boom.

Centipede gave live performances for the Jazz Center Society "Sigma" Organization of Bordeaux in France, the Lanchester Arts Festival, the Bristol University Student Union, and the Rotterdam Arts Council, garnering uneven reviews in the process. Some critics found the Tippett's music to be long and leaden, others saw it as a bold extension of the kind of free-form experimentation that Tippett and his band were already engaged in on a smaller scale -- Centipede merely added saxes, trumpets, and violins to the mix.

It must've impressed somebody at RCA's British arm, however, where -- apparently eager to get in on the progressive rock boom sweeping England's college campuses -- they signed Tippett and Centipede to a contract in the spring of 1971. At the time, he was neck-deep in the workings of King Crimson, having participated in the recording of three LPs by the band (In the Wake of Poseidon, Lizard, Islands), and had even been invited into the group formally, which he declined. Tippett did get Robert Fripp to produce the Septober Energy album. which was recorded that June in Wessex. Also on hand was ex-Crimson saxman Ian MacDonald on alto, alongside Elton Dean, while Crimson's Boz Burrell contributed vocals (along with Julie Tippett, Mike Patto, Zoot Money, and Maggie Nicols.

The resulting two-LP set came out as a British-only release in 1971, to indifferent or negative reviews. Some of this seemed justified by the structure of the work Septober Energy, which seemed to deliberately antagonize listeners with a long, meandering opening section that appeared to go nowhere. There was also some disappointment among Crimson fans (who comprised a major part of the purchasers) that Fripp, in the process of serving as ringmaster of this 50-piece circus, never got to play any guitar on the album, as had been his intent. Centipede broke up in 1971, the album having failed to garner the group any further engagements.

In 1974, American RCA, apparently hoping to elicit sales based on Fripp's presence as producer (and the very high visibility that a newer incarnation of King Crimson had gained in the previous year), issued Septober Energy in the United States. The results were disastrous, especially without a group (which had long since broken up) or even a group organizer to explain the project, for the album was far more jazz-oriented than King Crimson's brand of electric progressive rock. The noisy domestic pressings (and warped Dynaflex plastic) of the U.S. release didn't enhance the experience of hearing this music.

In 1999, What Disc re-released the album as a double-CD in Europe, as part of a series of Robert Wyatt-related reissues. ~ Bruce Eder, Rovi

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