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Bob Downes Open Music: New York Suite

Roger Farbey By

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British flautist/saxophonist Bob Downes recorded some compelling albums in the early '70s and then, coinciding with his permanent relocation to Germany at the end of the decade, disappeared from the UK jazz scene. The music didn't stop with his migration though, as he subsequently produced several solo flute albums for his own label, Openian.

In this archival recording from 1979 recorded in London, Downes augments his usual trio into a quintet with the addition of the late trombonist Paul Rutherford and electric guitarist Brian Godding. The choice of the extra horn and guitar is a shrewd move because the resultant arrangements are largely irresistible, this balance of instrumentation heard to great effect on the moody, slow blues instrumental "Harlem Blues," utilizing a perfect combination of tenor sax and trombone interwoven by guitar. As a total contrast, "The Chase" burst with electric energy, Godding's guitar glissandi and fuzz box-inflected lines keening throughout.

According to his sleeve notes, the title of the album was inspired by Downes' "wandering the streets of New York" the names of his compositions duly reflecting this, such as the pulsating opener, "Skywalker"—referring to the Mohawk Indians who worked on skyscrapers.

"Cuban Chinese" (named after an "authentic Cuban Chinese restaurant") sounds more South American than Asian but has an open music urgency characterized by a breathy bamboo flute solo and, later, by whistles.

The rather menacing sounding "Cops" features Downes on vocals, interspersed with contrabass flute where he manages to achieve some hypnotic multiphonics that culminate in an impression of police sirens. The multiphonics continue in "Times Square," but the contrabass and bass flutes are accompanied by simultaneous scat singing to great effect.

Downes injects his trademark quirky vocals into all but three of the tracks, from the haunting "Do Not Enter" and wry "39 Street," to the hollering and whooping madness of "Now You See It, Now You Don't."

"Shucks" again features a solo performance on contrabass flute, with multiphonics and vocals, while the concluding "New York City" is a trio piece for bass, drums, tenor and vocals; just a simple twelve-bar blues, but still compelling.

Special mention must be made to the late Paul Bridge on acoustic bass and Denis Smith, Downes' regular drummer of that period. Both inject an immediately apparent dynamism into the sound.

Why it took over thirty years for this album to be released is something of a mystery, but the resultant CD is remarkable. New York Suite manages to synthesize the best, most vital qualities of Downes' playing and composing; neither out and out rock nor quite totally free jazz, it is something in between and all the stronger for it.

Track Listing: Skywalkers; Coke; Cuban Chinese; Cops; Times Square; Harlem Blues; The Chase; Do Not Enter; 39 Street; Now You See It, Now You Don't; Shucks; New York City.

Personnel: Bob Downes: contrabass flute, bass flute, alto flute, Chinese bamboo flute, tenor saxophone, alto saxophone, vocals, saxophone mouthpieces, whistles; Paul Rutherford: trombone; Brian Godding: electric guitar, synthesiser; Paul Bridge: bass; Denis Smith: drums.

Title: New York Suite | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: Openian


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