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Kit Downes and Tom Challenger: Wedding Music

Karl Ackermann By

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The multiple-award winning pianist Kit Downes and the versatile saxophonist Tomas Challenger have the distinction of conceiving one of the most unusual releases in years with Wedding Music. This alliance of these critically praised members of the UK's Loop Collective has produced a superb and unique collection of duets for church organ and tenor sax. While organ and saxophone duos are a rarity even in the realm of the B-3, Downes and Challenger take it to an altogether different level in this setting.

In recording at Huddersfield University's St Paul's Church, the distinctive space becomes part of the music, creating an acoustic environment where the reverberation and reflection of sound is distinctive in comparison to a studio or stage venue. And then there is the pipe organ with its wind driven—and somewhat ominous—aural properties, its multiple timbres and variety of instrumental effects. Downes seems to have a karmic ability to coax the cumbersome apparatus to produce an orchestra-like array of sounds while maintaining a harmonious balance. At times, the sound of the organ is indiscernible from that of the saxophone. Trumpeter Alex Bonney—another member of the Loop Collective—here assumes the role of sound mixer adding distinct sculptural effects.

Challenger has demonstrated his resourcefulness to adapt to styles that range from the classically influenced but genre-defying Heritage Orchestra to the highly improvised Brass Mask Spy Boy (Babel, 2013). On Wedding Music he plays long John Coltrane-like lines presenting layers and changing tones, all the while adding spellbinding and reflective qualities to the pieces. Challenger is never verbose even when he reaches for the occasional emotional crescendo. Within his abstract explorations he is capable of creating a rich and exotic atmosphere without aberrant augmentations.

"Shos" opens the program and sets the stage for all of the pieces on Wedding Music in that it is both hypnotic and ever-shifting. Downes begins "Optics" minimally and Challenger ethereally floats in, the two musicians imparting a slightly spooky quality to the music. The rapidly pulsing vibrations that Downes gets out of the organ in the opening of "Cooks" are like a subdued pneumatic jackhammer performing a drum roll. If that implies noise, it doesn't play out that way. Like everything that is improvised on Wedding Music there is a melodic core. Illustrating the diversity of the pieces on this collection, the title track's opening is reminiscent of the classic Yes piece "Close to the Edge" before it veers off to the more otherworldly setting that feels like home-base for this collection.

Wedding Music is most definitely not what the title implies and though it is improvisation it does not fit easily into generally regarded parameters of free jazz. The point is not to think about the labels and open up to something completely different. We hear about the future direction of jazz with so much regularity that this "future" seems to redefine itself with every passing year. That said, Downes and Challenger are onto something here and it goes beyond niche or novelty. Wedding Music deserves a spot near the top of this year's best.

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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