thu 18/12/2014

CD: Kit Downes - Light From Old Stars | New music reviews, news & interviews

CD: Kit Downes - Light From Old Stars

2010 Mercury contender serves up an imposing quintet date

Kit Downes: from heavenly stillness to canonic games

The CD booklet note by NASA astrobiologist Daniella Scalice is just the first of many striking features on this third Basho CD by the Mercury Prize-nominated pianist Kit Downes. Joined by his core trio of bassist Calum Gourlay and drummer James Maddren (both fellow alumni of the Royal Academy of Music), plus reeds player James Allsopp and cellist Lucy Railton, Light From Old Stars sees Downes really getting into his compositional stride.

With rippling arpeggiations on the piano strings and icy harmonics in the cello, album opener “Wander and Colossus” ushers you into the album's singular sound world in the most beguiling way imaginable. “Bleydays”, a tribute to jazz pianist and major influence Paul Bley, features a monolithic unison theme for the entire quintet and impressive solo spots for Downes and Allsop on tenor.

Elsewhere, the series of tiny, circling motifs in the cello introduction to “Two Ones” is almost Bartók-like, while in the all-too-brief “Falling Dancing”, a solo vehicle for Downes, cascades of notes pour forth from across the piano's full range. The slightly crazed canonic games of “Owls” find the quintet appearing to move in concentric circles around each other, a musical cat and mouse show that is never resolved.

The concluding "Jan Johansson", another tribute to an influential precursor, is one of the most beautiful things Downes has penned. Possessing a hymn-like simplicity and strength, its slow-moving chorale returns us to the scene-setting stillness and silence of the opening.

In this finely drawn nine-track collection, the pianist's multifarious gifts as a writer come strongly to the fore: the meticulous ensemble writing; the seamless vibration between the composed and the improvised; the sensitivity to timbral and dynamic contrasts. It reveals an ear-catching artistry now in full bloom.

Watch Kit perform "Jan Johansson” with drummer Seb Rochford

The concluding 'Jan Johansson', another tribute to an influential precursor, is one of the most beautiful things Downes has penned

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