Sunday 12 September 2010

Kit Downes Trio, Brighton Jazz Club, 10th September

Being nominated for the Mercury Music Prize as this year's token jazzers doesn't seem to to have done much to Kit Downes' confidence. The pianist seemed genuinely surprised and humbled by the warm reception he got at the Brighton Jazz Club on Friday. One imagines that in the extremely unlikely event that he had won the top prize, the Trio would have been ill suited to playing the main stage at Glastonbury because the music is intimate and, as such, more suited to the small jazz club.

The band have a classic piano jazz trio set-up, Kit to the left and drummer James Maddren to the the right with bassist Calum Gourley acting as a kind of fulcrum between the sparring partners. Kit is not a flashy player. There's a fragility and thoughtfulness to his playing and, rather than creating strong solo lines, he uses the piano to create textures. Drummer James Maddren, who last impressed me at BJC with alto saxophonist Geoff Simkins, plays with great freedom and a wonderful sense of dynamics. He can go from quiet and controlled to loud and surprising very quickly, but always tastefully. I love the look on his face as he plays - transported to some place inside the music. Interestingly bassist Calum Gourley played strong melodic lines on his solos, by way of contrast to Kit.

The set was made up almost entirely of Kit's compositions. The tunes that stood out were Skip James -  a piece that conjured up an eerie Texan landscape, like Ry Cooder's score to Wim Wenders' Paris Texas - and Jump Mitzy Jump as it reminded me of our kittens when they have that five minute frenetic burst of activity. The compositions are strong enough to make me want to get to know the records. In terms of comparisons, a bit of EST and a bit of Brad Mehldau, though less intense. One thing that intrigued me about the tunes was where the composing ended and the improvising started. I thought the same thing with Phronesis earlier in the year. You can't see the joins but you want to be reassured that the bulk is improvised.

It can be tough presenting entirely original, unfamiliar compositions to an audience. It was therefore something of a relief mid-way through the second set when they went into a beautiful, understated version of the standard Skylark. The melody of that tune is so strong, they didn't have to do much with it. It was like listening to the blooming of a flower, time-lapse style.

It was of no surprise to learn that the three shared a house as students. They played without music, seemed very supportive of each other and the music had the good humour of mates playing together. They didn't seem at all surprised that they weren't the victors last week. I think it would take quite a lot to distract them from their current path.

Here's a video of Kit Downes talking about and playing Jump Minzy Jump.

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