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While for Kit Downes last year involved performing with a variety of bands including Troyka whose album Moxxy picked up good reviews across the board, Anglo-French band Barbacana, and appearing on Golden Age of Steam’s Welcome to Bat Country issued late in the year, 2013 will see the acclaimed ex-Empirical player release a quintet record with piano again at its heart.

Featuring members of his trio, bassist Calum Gourlay and drummer James Maddren, with Golden Age of Steam’s James Allsopp on bass clarinet, and cellist Lucy Railton, the album was recorded at Fishmarket Studios by Robert Harder who produced The Cherry Thing released last year to considerable acclaim.

The new album to be titled Light From Old Stars combines a variety of elements from chamber jazz signifiers in the arranging style through to free improv on a track such as ‘Owls’ and the more cinematic “road movie” conception of ‘Outlaws’, or the remoulded ‘jam’ blow-out feel of ‘What’s the Rumpus.’

Recorded on a Steinway sourced from Beccles in Suffolk Light From Old Stars is to be released in April by London-based indie jazz label Basho, home to The Impossible Gentlemen and Gwilym Simcock, and follows Downes’ albums the Mercury nominated trio album Golden (2009), and Quiet Tiger (2011).

Tracks are ‘Wonder and Colossus’, ‘Bley Days’, ‘Outlaws’, ‘What’s the Rumpus’, ‘Two Ones’, ‘Falling, Dancing’, ‘Owls’, ‘The Mad Wren’, and ‘Jan Johansson’. Details are sketchy so far, but ‘Bley Days’, which the quintet played live on selected dates last year, is Downes’ homage to Paul Bley, and the final track is clearly named as a tribute for the lost leader of Swedish jazz, pianist Jan Johansson who died at the young age of 37 in 1968. Johansson is best known for his classic album Jazz på svenska (‘Jazz in Swedish’), which used European folk music as an ingredient for jazz improvisation, one of the first to do so. ‘Jan Johansson’ is a quietly yearning dream-like track that begins with a scamperingly laidback Maddren rhythm, a low piano rumble, and a lovely melody line that Downes and cellist Railton state in unison before the softly unfolding melody line ascends.
Stephen Graham

Quintet tour dates include: Capstone Theatre, Liverpool, 2 March; Komedia, Brighton, 8 March; The Hive, Shrewsbury 13 April; Bonnington Theatre, Nottingham 18 April; and Jazz in the Round at the Cockpit Theatre, London, on 29 April, with more dates in May and June

Kit Downes above

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Crazy name, crazy guys? Very possibly, going by the postcard pictures on the band’s website. I suppose Shatner’s Bassoon could conceivably have been Nimoy’s Nadaswaram or Doohan’s Dulcimer if Chris Morris hadn’t provided some inspiration instead. But maybe there’s something to be said about the perils of band names becoming better known than their lovingly crafted music: Hamster Axis Of The One-Click Panther, anyone? Sadly but a fleeting musical memory.

Aquatic Ape Privilege, the Leeds band’s debut due out on the Wasp Millionaire label in February, opens up with a pleasurable guitar squall from Craig Scott conjuring for a moment the reclusive twang of undersung prophet-of-suburbia Billy Jenkins among the squelchy keyboards, toy effects and disembodied spoken word on opening gambit ‘This Is How You Make A Buck’.

The Bassoon swell to a six-piece combo augmented with a second drummer for live dates, and have been around for a little under three years. Their influences are Tim Berne, Mr Bungle, and importantly John Zorn, who produced that funk metal band’s cult debut album in 1991. Zappa also figures as a reference point and so too, surely, the reigning saint of Leeds improv, the outrageously influential Matthew Bourne.

With four longish tracks among the seven, the opener plus ‘Altered Beast’, the intriguingly titled ‘Breakfast with Boghead’ (beats toast, although not sure about the parrot retching), and the closing track ‘Someone Killed My Panda, the album is a fun rollercoaster ride with some formidable improvising, but they certainly don’t take themselves too seriously. I liked saxophonist Ollie Dover’s talkatively emotive saxophone opener to ‘Boghead’, and hopefully the jokes won’t wear too thin after more repeated play. The signs are good so far. SG

Released on 11 February. Shatner’s Bassoon play Oporto, Leeds on 15 January; The Cluny, Newcastle 29 Jan; The Noise Upstairs, Sheffield on 13 February; The Fish Tank, Durham 18 Feb; Sandbar, Manchester 19 Feb; The Fox and Newt, Leeds 23 Feb; The Splinter, Newcastle 24 Feb; Vortex, London 26 Feb; Safehouse, Brighton 27 Feb; Club Integral, London N16 on 7 March; and Ort Café, Birmingham, 8 March

Shatner’s Bassoon pictured