How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
The Kit Downes Trio's first album, Golden (Basho Records, 2009), won a Mercury Music Prize nomination and put the group firmly at the forefront of British jazz. Quiet Tiger finds the Trio eager to move forward, redefining its sound. Not content to rest on the laurels garnered by Golden, pianist and composer Downes has augmented the band, expanding its musical palette with the unusual addition of tenor saxophone, bass clarinet and cello.
At heart, though, this is still a trio, and bassist Calum Gourlay and drummer James Maddren remain central to the band's identity. Gourlay is an undemonstrative but focused player who seems to radiate calmness. Maddren is one of the most distinctive drummers around, his inventive playfulness ensuring that his percussion constantly surprises. Downes' playing is considered, thoughtful and often exquisite; his writing equally inventive and intriguing.
The new instrumentation is provided by reed player James Allsoppleader of The Golden Age Of Steam, in which Downes plays Hammond organ and Wurlitzerand cellist Adrien Dennefeld. They appear on all but three of the tunes, and their impact is undeniably effective, lending an air of mystery and suspense to the music. Dennefeld, like Gourlay, tends to shun the musical limelight; his presence is not always obvious, but his understated performances are incisive. Allsopp is much more upfront, often overdubbing his two instruments to add depth to his sound.
On "Attached," Allsopp and Dennefeld create a somber, melancholy atmosphere through the use of long, wave-like phrases. "Wooden Birds" is a curious, dreamlike tune featuring Downes' tinkling, bright, piano patterns. "Skip James" is languid, reflective and sadthe title suggesting a tribute to the great bluesmanbut it could well be Downes' instruction to Maddren, and features some rolling piano phrases and a plaintive bass solo. "The Wizards" opens with a duet between Allsopp, on tenor sax, and Maddren, with Allsopp keeping things fairly simple as the drummer jumps and swings across the kit.
Of the trio numbers "In Brixen" is the most beautiful: a lyrical and flowing tune underpinned by Gourlay's lovely bass groove. On "Fonias" Downes' piano playing is spacious and delicate, the most classical-sounding and romantic playing on the album. "Frizzi Pazzi" finds Downes firmly in Thelonious Monk
territory, with phrases reminiscent of Monk's "Suburban Eyes."
The cover of Quiet Tiger is absolutely gorgeous, the work of Scottish artist Lesley Barnes, who is collaborating with the band on an animation projectanother indication of Downes' ambition and exploratory energy. Golden was an emphatic debut, and Quiet Tiger takes things onward and upward: refusing to simply recreate the debut's successful formula, Downes and his fellow musicians are moving in fascinating and engaging new directions.
Track Listing: Boreal; Tambourine; With a View; Frizzi Pazzi; Attached; In Brixen; Wooden Birds; Fonias; The Wizards; Skip James; Quiet Tiger.
Personnel: Kit Downes: piano; Calum Gourlay: double-bass; James Maddren: drums: James Allsopp: tenor saxophone, bass clarinet; Adrien Dennefeld: cello.