Kit Downes: Obsidian

Karl Ackermann By

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In 2013, pianist/organist Kit Downes, along with saxophonist Tomas Challenger, released Wedding Music (Loop Records) featuring Downes on the B-3 organ at Huddersfield University's St Paul's Church. That recording was moored in an ethereal setting that gave it an ambient, but stately quality and the duo reunited under similar conditions for Vyamanikal (Slip Imprint, 2016). In both cases the music focused more on the transparency of resonance rather than the structure of the pieces. Downes' ECM debut, Obsidian, returns him to the church organ though the formations of the music are often more defined here.

On this solo recording (with the exception of a single track) Downes utilizes organs at three UK locations; London's Union Chapel, St. John's in Snape and St. Edmund's Church in Bromeswell. As explained in the liner notes, Downes long fascination with the organ extended to his transformational wish to play on these different instruments and find a way to have them communicate with each other. Certainly, each has individual characteristics and a unique voice that may be apparent when listening in the context that Downes has laid out.

Downes wrote eight of the ten pieces on Obsidian. "Kings," "Bone Gambler" and "The Gift" have a distinct hymnal qualities, the latter of the three with a dark Celtic quality as well. "The Gift"—which closes the album—is based on a composition by Downes' father. "Seeing Things" and "Flying Foxes" are freely improvised and lighter feeling pieces. "Modern Gods" is the only piece on which Challenger appears and it is an offbeat mix of long tenor lines and bubbling output from the organ; upbeat and ominous at the same time, it is oddly appealing. Challenger co-wrote the piece with Downes. Not surprisingly, given the dynamics of the church organ, "Ruth's Song for the Sea" and "Last Leviathan" emanate with a dignified sadness as does the traditional Scottish composition "Black Is the Colour."

Downes' creative approach on Obsidian ranges from singular spontaneous improvisations to multiple reassembled improvisations, to building on—and around—concepts. A key inspiration is French composer and organist Olivier Messiaen who Downes explains ..."blends the sounds of the instrument to give real form and colour to the performance. You can be both an improviser and an orchestrator in the moment." Messiaen, in fact, rejected much of the analytical terminology of music suggesting that there is only music with, or without, color. Downes has taken that to heart on this beautiful collection and he has plans to expand on his use of the organ in a future project. Obsidian is highly recommended.

Track Listing: Kings; Black Is The Colour; Rings Of Saturn; Seeing Things; Modern Gods; The Bone Gambler; Flying Foxes; Ruth’s Song For The Sea; Last Leviathan; The Gift.

Personnel: Kit Downes: church organ; Tom Challenger: tenor saxophone (5).

Title: Obsidian | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: ECM Records

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