Light From Old Stars
(Basho Records SRCD42-2)
This disc shares the same instrumentation as the pianist’s last disc, Quiet Tiger, which despite its Trio claim on the cover was in fact mainly a quintet affair. But whereas the addition of saxophone/bass clarinet and cello was there to provide some background textures for the trio to play against, here the five instruments are fully integrated.
With Downes are his longtime partners Calum Gourlay on bass and James Maddren on drums, with James Allsopp on tenor saxophone, clarinet and bass clarinet, and Lucy Railton on cello.
The music, all by Downes, takes its inspiration from astronomy. It was a meeting Downes had with astrobiologist Daniella Scalice a the Cheltenham Science Festival that was the spark, and Scalice has contributed the liner notes here.
So we get order but also chaos, light but also darkness, wide open space but also the nearness that brings clashes and crunches. I hear a little bit of Bill Frisell in Two Ones and The Mad Wren, but those references might just be in my imagination. Other tracks makes plain their inspiration: Bleydays, with its awkward structure might suggest to me some early Keith Jarrett but it is clearly named for pianist Paul Bley, while the final track is called Jan Johansson, after the late Swedish pianist, and has some cool harmonies set against a lovely, springy brushed beat from Maddren.
Gourlay has a great time on Outlawed, and Railton gets some space to herself in Two Ones. While Downes’s own solos have their characteristic delights of harmonic and melodic inventiveness, it is his writing and arranging that really are the highlights of this album. With these four other musicians he seems to have found a whole chamber orchestra with which to explore his musical vision and take it out into the galaxies.
The band has already been touring this material but their album launch is at The Forge in Camden Town, London, on 7 June.
Categories: CD review