Kit Downes – Light from Old Stars
(Basho SRCD 42-2. CD Review by Chris Parker)
‘The idea of scale and the way we feel time in music’, with special reference to the time light takes to travel from mind-bogglingly distant stars (which may not even still exist by the time we can detect their light), was pianist/composer Kit Downes’s inspirational starting point for the music on this, his third Basho album, on which he is joined by his core trio (bassist Calum Gourlay, drummer James Maddren), reeds player James Allsopp and cellist Lucy Railton.
In addition to allowing Downes to deploy extra musical forces, the album also marks a departure in being ‘integrated completely so everybody is improvising’ on his customary vibrant mix of deep grooves, free-ish jazz excursions, raw blues influences and suitably idiosyncratic compositions titled from films/TV by the likes of the Coen brothers (‘What’s the Rumpus’) and David Lynch (‘Owls’).
Downes’s music, as ever, is restlessly inventive, multi-hued, but – as astrobiologist Daniella Scalice points out in her liner notes – the album’s striking opener, ‘Wander and Colossus’, emulates stars in both what she calls its ‘steady evenness’ (‘the stillness we actually experience when we look up’) and in its cycle of ‘building, growing, peaking, declining and ending’.
With this rich and varied set, Downes’s trio confirms its reputation as one of the most considered yet vigorously interactive units on the current UK jazz scene (Maddren as ever the master of dynamic control, Gourlay sensitively propulsive throughout), and with its many textures accentuated and subtly changing rhythms flawlessly negotiated by Allsopp’s tenor and clarinets and Railton’s fine-tuned cello contributions, Light from Old Stars is at once immediately accessible and richly rewarding, revealing hidden felicities each time it is listened to.