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Kit Downes and Tom Challenger: Vyamanikal

Bruce Lindsay By

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Five churches, five church organs and a saxophone or two: the instrumentation to be found on Vyamanikal, the British duo of Kit Downes and Tom Challenger's follow-up to Wedding Music (Loop Collective, 2013).

Downes (ENEMY, Tricko, Troyka) and Challenger (Brass Mask, Ma, Dice Factory) recorded Vyamanikal during a 2015 residency at Aldeburgh Music. The venue was established by composer Benjamin Britten in the 1960s in a disused Victorian maltings in the Suffolk village of Snape and is now one of the UK's premiere centers for music. The recordings don't come from the venue itself, however, but from churches around the area.

The churches—All Saints, Darsham; Holy Trinity, Blytheburgh; St Michael, Framlingham; St Edmond, Bromeswell; St John, Snape—are all to be found in Suffolk, one of England's most beautiful and ancient counties. They are crucial to the music not only because they provide the organs which Downes plays: they are instruments themselves. Their unique acoustics and the found sounds (if that's the right term) from their structures and churchyards are just as much a part of these improvisations as Challenger's saxophones. The bird song on "Maar-ikar" is in perfect sympathy with the music, even the sound of footsteps (if that's what it is) suits the mood and pace of the piece.

At times, the tracks on Wedding Music were doomy, dark and a little scary. Vyamanikal's music is gentler, calmer, less dramatic—although there is still occasional tension: for example in Downes' organ playing on "Sa," a stark contrast to Challenger's plaintive saxophone on the same track. But mostly this is meditative music, as Downes has said. The tempos are slow, the interplay between sax and organ is relaxed, some of Downes' organ chords seem to sustain forever. Music for the heart and soul.

Track Listing: Apicha; Bdhak; Sa; Vistri; Jyotir; Maar-ikar; Nya-aya.

Personnel: Kit Downes: organs; Tom Challenger: saxophones.

Title: Vyamanikal | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: Slip Imprint

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