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Interviews

Kit Downes: You Have to Be What You Are

By Published: September 15, 2010
Downes agrees that the Trio's links with the past might fit with the current music scene's interests, but there are other aspects of their approach that he sees as equally, if not more, important: "The other bands have also been going a lot longer than us. I think Golden is the only debut on the list [in fact, winning band The XX were also nominated for their debut recording]. I decided to record the album because we had played together for four years and it seemed important to document this. Basho Records approached us after we had finished the recording. We did it at a cheap studio, almost as a live recording. There's no edits: it was all done in one room with a couple of mics. It's really raw. We made our money back after selling a couple of hundred albums."

Kit Downes Trio, from left: James Maddren, Kit Downes, Calum Gourlay

"The next album is slightly different. I'm writing for more instruments, to overdub. I guess there's a more obvious traceability to the past with our records than the others in the list maybe most of all because of the aesthetic, the fact that it is a live recording like those albums they made in the '50s or '60s, with one mic in a room."

The Trio's second album was recorded at Curtis Schwartz' studio, where many top British jazz acts seem to be heading these days. Downes has a clear reason for going there: "It's amazing. They have the most unbelievable piano—a mix of a really good piano with an individual identity."

Downes makes what he sees as an important point about the genesis of Golden and other albums: "We didn't make the album with the intention of it being listened to by hundreds of thousands of people: that's not why you should make music. You should make music to be listened to and accepted by yourselves. Who else listens to it is not your concern from that point on. And it is really weird listening to it because we sound two years younger. In jazz, things can change very quickly, especially in the early stages where we are. But there's something naive about it, which I like."

Golden starts and ends with two beautiful tunes with gorgeous melody lines: "Jump, Minzi, Jump" and "Tom's Tune." But in between the two, tunes like "Power and Patience (the Bear)" include some long and complex improvisations. For someone coming to the album from the Mercury list this might make them work a little bit. "I like to think a lot about track listings—it's a bit of a mini-obsession of mine. It's like playing a gig; you want to pace things and think of it as an overall piece of music. I like to think that there are people out there who still listen to an album in one go. But I would have done the track order differently if I was doing it now. I think I would have put "Homely" further down and put "Tom's Tune" further up. That's kind of the vibe of the Trio as well, putting some subversive, angular, free improv into the middle of something. Because we like that type of music but we also really like melody."

Downes, Gourlay and Maddren are, like most professional jazz musicians in the UK, members of many different bands. It's partly something driven out of economic necessity, but that's not the only reason why Downes and his band mates work in that way. "I was speaking to someone at Kerrang! Radio [a UK radio station specializing in rock and heavy metal music] and they couldn't believe it when they heard how many bands we were in—because pop and rock musicians are generally just in one or maybe two bands. But there are so many bands and so few gigs in the scene that in order to survive you have to be versatile. Also, it's a really searching music and you want to be in as many things as you can—it feeds you. At our age, it's a really important thing to play many different styles of music. I don't think Hank Jones
Hank Jones
Hank Jones
1918 - 2010
piano
got to where he was just by playing one style of music. It's the same with Elvin Jones
Elvin Jones
Elvin Jones
1927 - 2004
drums
, Bill Frisell
Bill Frisell
Bill Frisell
b.1951
guitar
, all the people I really love."

Playing in so many bands can get confusing and complicated. "We're in other people's bands together as well. It's all strength to the UK scene: there are so many bands, so many people writing music, there's really something for everyone in the UK jazz scene."

The diversity of the scene is something about which Downes is clearly excited. "If there was a way to hear everything that's going on—if, for a week, you could replace MTV with JazzTV—suddenly, everyone would find at least one thing they liked. You've got Acoustic Ladyland
Acoustic Ladyland
Acoustic Ladyland

band/orchestra
to Evan Parker
Evan Parker
Evan Parker
b.1944
sax, tenor
to Portico Quartet
Portico Quartet
Portico Quartet

band/orchestra
to Polar Bear
Polar Bear
Polar Bear

band/orchestra
: and then you've got Paul Dunmall
Paul Dunmall
Paul Dunmall
b.1953
saxophone
, Clark Tracey
Clark Tracey
Clark Tracey
b.1961
to Stan Tracey
Stan Tracey
Stan Tracey
1926 - 2013
piano
to Stan Sulzmann
Stan Sulzmann
Stan Sulzmann

saxophone
. And the whole think links together—almost every one of those people I just named will have played together at some time."


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