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Kit Downes and Tom Challenger: Wedding Music

Bruce Lindsay By

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Six improvised pieces of music, created over a three-day residency by two of the UK's most innovative and visionary young players and performed as church organ and saxophone duets. That's Wedding Music, by organist Kit Downes and saxophonist Tomas Challenger. Six strange, atmospheric and starkly beautiful pieces of music.

Wedding Music was recorded in St Paul's Church, Huddersfield, in Yorkshire—the home of a church organ which Downes describes as "exceptional." It's the culmination of a three-day residency at Huddersfield University during which, according to the organist, the duo explored "timbre, space, duration and sound." The exploration is a triumph.

"Shos" starts off jauntily, with Challenger's saxophone almost skipping with joy. Downes' entry—a doomy, stark, chord—soon shifts the mood to a much darker place and eventually Challenger follows. By the close of the piece Downes' organ is very much in charge and the saxophone's despairing wail no longer makes any pretence at fun.

"Optics" is a slow-burner, the spacious organ chords eventually joined by Challenger's equally spacious saxophone. The music evokes a feeling of loneliness—especially when Challenger's sax seems to channel the sound of a lost and lonely sea creature—and yet it manages to be quite lovely at the same time. "Cooks" is another down tempo piece, opening with Downes' organ sounding like a pneumatic drill—it's a dark, slasher movie soundtrack, once more rich in atmosphere.

"Restart," the album's longest number, makes "Optics" seem positively hyperactive. Both Downes and Challenger keep things simple—organ chords held for extended periods to underpin repeated two or three note tenor saxophone phrases. The result is gentle and affecting. "Rat Catcher" returns to the dark mystery of "Cooks," with Downes yet again coaxing oddly unnatural sounds from the organ and Challenger's saxophone once more conjuring images of despair and longing. But while "Cooks" was scary, "Rat Catcher" is rather beautiful.

It's not easy to envisage the weddings for which the first five of these pieces might form a backdrop. Perhaps a shotgun might be involved, or the Frankenstein family may be in attendance. "Wedding Music" itself is another matter. It's Downes' turn to begin in jaunty mood, with loud, dynamic and celebratory phrases. Challenger responds with bursts of thick-toned notes, as Downes' own playing becomes increasingly frenetic and rich. This isn't the traditional accompaniment to the bride and groom walking down the aisle, but it's an ideal accompaniment to the entire wedding party leaping and jumping in celebration.

Wedding Music is a download only release from London's Loop Collective. The meaning of the album's title, says Downes, "is open-ended." The music is marvellous.

Track Listing: Shos; Optics; Cooks; Restart; Rat Catcher; Wedding Music.

Personnel: Kit Downes: organ; Tom Challenger: saxophone.

Title: Wedding Music | Year Released: 2013 | Record Label: Loop Records

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