Obsidian by Kit Downes

Release date: January 19, 2018
Label: ECM Records

Kit Downes has been around as a Jazz pianist and organist for 11 years. He’s been in his own trio, Neon Quartet, Troyka, and his first appearance as a band member with Empirical who released their sole self-titled debut album that was considered in 2007’s albums of the year for both of the music magazines of MOJO and Jazzwise. He made his ECM debut three years ago with drummer Thomas Stronen’s Time is a Blind Guide. This year, Kit has released on his debut with ECM Records entitled, Obsidian.

But this isn’t a jazz album, but a beautiful haunting experience through the church organ. Now this happened before as he and tenor saxophonist Tom Challenger in which both of them went to the Royal Academy of Music, did a project together called Vyamikal in which they recorded in the summer of 2012 for three days at Huddersfield University’s St. Paul’s Church.

And now the two of them in which Tom appears in only one track on Obsidian, the album was recorded at three English Churches; the Snape Church of John the Baptist, Bromeswell St. Edmund Church in which both of them are in Suffolk. And the Union Chapel Church in Islington. Produced by Sun Chung, Kit brings these sacred and stirring compositions he brought to the table this year.

The definition of Obsidian is a hard, dark volcanic vitreous rock which is formed by the rapid solidification of lava without crystallization. And for Downes, he takes the crystal to show the listener in various themes that are improvised as if he’s making their hair on the back of their necks go up. You have this fanfare anthem introduction on ‘Modern Gods’ with the organ as if the gods are ready to have another meeting as Challenger’s tenor sax follows suit as he brings some of these echoing effects in the church to follow Downes and hearing what the Gods are talking about behind closed doors. It then suddenly changes by a rising sound to create this rising alarming noise.

Both Kit and Tom gives the listener know that after an minute or so, the meeting is over and the gods are extremely pleased of what has happened. ‘Ruth’s Song for the Sea’ sounds like something Robert Wyatt could have used during the sessions for Rock Bottom. I could imagine that Downes wrote this a tribute to Wyatt for all the accomplishments he’s done with the Soft Machine, Matching Mole, and as a solo artist.

The organ delves into that era of Rock Bottom and a small amount of Tchaikovsky’s ‘Arabian Dance’ from the Nutcracker suite. The ‘Rings of Saturn’ has this David Bedford-sque compositions with this whistling effect as if the ship has landed with low/quiet sinister tones in a droning atmosphere to make it a small alarming noise. Both ‘Seeing Things’ and ‘Flying Foxes’ gives Kit’s church organ through various sections for the little creatures scattering away very quickly.

I like how he goes through various sections by going up, middle, and down for them to movie out unexpectedly and head home to tell their friends of what they’ve seen and saw. ‘The Bone Gambler’ is a spooky atmosphere as if walking into the abandoned area of the Old West that suddenly become a ghost town. I imagine this gothic mournful section is a nod to both of the composers David Cain who was a part of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop and performed by David Munrow and the Early Music Consort who did the music for the BBC radio drama 50 years ago of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit.

Kit Downes Obsidian may not be everyone’s cup of coffee, but for me in my opinion, I enjoyed this album. Not just because it’s a great release from ECM Records, but it shows that Kit Downes is more than just a jazz musician, but also a composer and organist to create his arranging and composition with a piece of music as if it was telling a story from start to finish.

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