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Bob Downes: Open Music

Roger Farbey By

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Open Music was Bob Downes' debut album, recorded for the Philips label in 1969 and his impact on the UK scene was such that he was voted top place in the flute category of the Melody Maker jazz poll's British musician section for three consecutive years from 1972. It has until now never been reissued on CD and rare vinyl copies have attracted high sums in second-hand markets. Although Downes is best known for his flute playing, he is a genuine multi-instrumentalist, playing no fewer than seven instruments on this album, including the less conventional, acetate paper.

The recording's centerpiece is "Dream Journey." The piece— which received its premiere by Ballet Rambert on November 27, 1969 in London—runs just over twenty minutes. Divided into two parts, the first eleven minutes of the track are devoted to flute and percussion, with special emphasis on the sporadic, dramatic interspersions of timpani. The whole piece is very cinematic and reflects music of a more classical nature, but the second half is considerably more jazz informed. The ensemble sax sections are dynamically engaging, underpinned by acoustic bass and drums building to repeated crescendos with Downes providing an exciting flute solo.

The next five tracks are either solo flute, flute and drums, or flute, drums, and bass. These largely improvised tracks are predominantly quiet, ruminative pieces dominated by Downes' intricate flute. However, "Ghosts in Space" is more structured with a strangely hypnotic head defined by flute, arco bass, and drums, while the middle collective improvisation section is enlivened by Downes screaming in the noisier parts. The final track, "Electric City" which was to give its name to a succeeding album, recorded by Downes for Vertigo (1970), is effectively a jazz-rock piece. Again, Downes inserts some scat singing—or more accurately, shouting—all against a backdrop of ostinato bass guitar, Chris Spedding's unmistakable guitar work, and wild multi-tracked saxophones, all conjuring up an exciting mêlée of sound. This album surely explains Downes high-ranking in the Melody Maker polls. Open Music is an unusual and innovative collection of flute mastery.

Track Listing: Dream Journey: Score For "Blind Sight" (commissioned for) Ballet Rambert; Birth Of A Forest; Integration; Contact; Ghosts In Space; Desert Haze; Electric City.

Personnel: Bob Downes: concert flute, tenor saxophone, Chinese bells, acetate paper, alto flute, bamboo flute, alto saxophone, saxophone mouthpieces, small tam tam; Derek Hogg: tympani (1), vibraphone, large tam tam, finger cymbals; Dennis Smith: drums, tam tam; John Stevens: drums; Harry Miller: bass, bass guitar; Jim Gregory: flute (1); John Warren: baritone saxophone (1); Clive Stevens: tenor saxophone (1); Chris Pyne: trombone (1); Nigel Carter: trumpet (1); Henry Lowther: trumpet (1); Butch Hudson: trumpet (1); Chris Spedding: guitar (7).

Title: Open Music | Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: Esoteric Recordings


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