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Enemy At Magy's Farm

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…the tremendous sense of mischief that permeated Enemy’s play positions this trio in a little universe of its own design.
Enemy
Magy's Farm
Dromara, N. Ireland
May 18, 2023

Kit Downes, Petter Eldh and James Maddren have played under the unusual moniker of Enemy since 2015, with their eponymous debut released on Dave Stapleton's Edition Records in 2018. The enemy in question may well be cliché and conformity because this is a trio that eschews most of the time-honored jazz-piano-trio tropes, choosing instead to follow its own logic system.

As the audience at Magy's Farm could attest, it is not necessarily an easy language to decipher. Fractured, constantly modulating rhythms and tempi made for awkward toe-tapping, while subtle upping of the collective intensity—buffeted by pregnant pauses and staggered exchanges—could lure a listener into a false sense that they knew where this was all heading, until another turn in the music would merrily yank the rug of expectation from under one's feet.

And yet, within the many folds of Downes, Eldh and Maddren's music there was much to hang onto during an exhilarating ride. Melodic hooks and rhythmic vamps provided signposts. So too, a blues vein here, a snatch of bop there, a burst of fast-walking bass or a slice of stride piano—all threw out familiar buoys in their stormy improvisational sea.

The set kicked off with "Minus Monks," one of several compositions from Vermillion (ECM Records, 2022), but as Eldh and Maddren's slow, yet oddly buoyant rhythms and Downes' slyly snaking melodic lines gathered momentum, it appeared that one door had shut only for another to open, as the trio transitioned into an as-yet untitled Eldh composition. Brushes gave way to sticks and a circular piano motif took hold over a bass vamp. Solid foundations, however, soon shifted into more cryptic language as broken beats and Downes' restless explorations—a little burrowing to the left of centre, a little chiseling to the right—eventually resolved into blues-tinged stride.

There was something of Keith Jarrett's see-where-she-takes-us flow in Downes' approach to his keys, and by extension, in the trio's elastic sense of time. A case of apples and oranges perhaps, as the tremendous sense of mischief that permeated Enemy's play positions this trio in a little universe of its own design.

One could get lost in Downes' flitting ruminations, in Maddren's loose-wristed, polyrhythmic guile, or in Eldh's athletic questioning and answering, but it was when the ears were attuned to the collective sturm and drang that the real thrills revealed themselves.

For sure, there was whooping and applause for individual highlights. A throbbing bass solo during "Faster Than the Speed of Light," a vertiginous piano solo laced with tumbling glissandi and choppy accents during "Children With Torches," and a drum solo that juggled grace and power during a new composition, all set the blood racing. But the biggest applause and the loudest cheers were reserved for the end of the trio's medley-like journeys—a communal release in recognition of collective brilliance.

For the encore, the trio served up "Low Hanging Fruit," a feisty, helter-skelter vignette that, truth be told, felt like a quickly scribbled autograph on an epic tome. It added little, but this minor quibble apart, this was a breathless, high-wire performance of constant invention. Contemporary jazz at its most compelling.

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