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Saturday, December 07, 2019

CD Review: Kit Downes - Dreamlife of Debris

Kit Downes (piano/organ); Tom Challenger  (tenor sax); Stian
Westerhus   (guitar);  Lucy Railton (cello); Sebastian Rochford (drums) 
(Review by Chris K)

The last of three piano led albums marking ECM's 50th birthday, the latest evolution of Kit Downes' modernity sees him travelling towards the final frontier in space - it's jazz, Lance, but not as you know it!  More precisely, the Debris of the title refers to The Rings of Saturn, obliquely inspired by W.G. Sebald's 1995 book of that name - actually a meditative account of a walking tour of Suffolk. Make no mistake, this and Downes' previous works are cerebral and nuanced - the Bublé fan club beware!

His previous ECM offering, Obsidian, (reviewed here on Bebop Spoken Herewas essentially experimental solo church organ music. This latest mixes similar organ treatment with piano, augmented with sax, cello, sparingly used guitar and even more sparing drums. Downes' previous work, notably with Troyka,  follows more conventional jazz form, and until his last two albums I might have bracketed him alongside the similarly virtuosic and creative Gwilym Simcock.  His recent ventures, however, are into Phillip Glass and liturgical territory - slow, sparse and drawing on rich clouds of experimental effects and eerie soundscapes.

The opening track, Sculptor, features sax interweaving with revolving piano, later merging with organ harmonies. Circinus is a smoothly textured drifting dream created by legato cello, sax and organ. Pinwheel another reverie of piano, sax and cello, embellished by celestial cymbals. The longest track, Bodes, runs over 12 minutes of more varied drama, moving through nightmarish episodes of abstract cello over organ drones.

The one track not penned by Downes is M7, written by his wife, the bassist Ruth Goller and played here on solo organ. This comes closer to a "tune", with intriguing arpeggiated patterns pierced by haunting clanger-like pipe whistling. Twin features stately sax lines over slowly evolving organ harmonies, and the album closes with Blackeye finally setting the austere organ against Seb Rochford's chunky beats.

Although painted with a palette too slow and austere for some jazz tastes, this is a beguiling blend of harmonies, sounds old and new, shrouded in ethereal and delicate beauty.  Downes is surely an exciting celestial body to track across the heavens!
Chris Kilsby
Released on 25.10.2019 ECM 2632

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