LIVE: Kit Downes quadruple bill: (Chris Montague solo/ Kit Downes Trio/ Royst/ Tom Challenger's MA)
Yeah. This was a very smart idea from the Pizza Express in Dean Street under Ross Dines to get Kit Downes to curate a showcase with four contrasting young bands in one evening. But it was a programme to test the breadth of ears of any one listener. All fine musicians, but I would challenge anyone to give their personal five stars to all four of these bands. If it's stars you're after, then keep watching Kit Downes. And if it's ruthlessly accurate ratings, then I'd say 4.2 stars precisely to the Kit Downes trio, with the three other acts coming in well above three and a half but just shy of four. (But I'm new to this star-giving game.)
With all of these musicians there is that sense of taking a snapshot as they develop, as they absorb new influences, try out new things. So to make any sort of valedictory judgment now would be pointless and inhuman.
The evening got under way with Chris Montague's solo set on guitar. Montague is Downes' co-conspirator in Troyka, and a very versatile guitarist. He admitted -just as the the much more seasoned Finn Peters did a few weeks ago- that he was new to the solo set format. He did VERY well. I have to say that the more melodic numbers - Nirvana's Heart-Shaped Box, and an up-close-and-personal Beatles In My Life did more for me than either the harmonic repose of "At Rest" or the playing-over-changes of Ambleside Days.
Royst are a Leeds-based a capella vocal group in their seventh year of existence. They were a quartet, they're temporarily a trio. They experiment with sound, they veer towards minimalism. And there were sections which reminded me of the Cathy Berberian/Berio Stripsody/Folks Songs 70's 80's vibe. It was definitely all a bit Norwegian for my professorial gig companion. He kept passing me incomprehensible grumpy notes with remarks like "narrative arc, dear boy." I must find out what he meant.
Tom Challenger's MA has two phenomenal rising musicians whose work I already knew: Ross Stanley on keyboards and Dave Smith on drums. This is a band with an astonishing inner energy, and clever/subtle use of the electronics and distortion from Matt Calvert. It's more for the club than for the concert hall, and with a smart and savvy DJ to tell everyone how good they are.... people will miraculously discover just how good they are.
I'm leaving the best till last. Just as Kit Downes' trio left its best till last, a number called "Homely." It started in the serenity of a drawing-room with (OK, let's turn 100% of the LondonJazz readership off) Emmanuel Chabrier. Downes always has beauty of sound and balance of voicing to spare. Then he moved through questioning teasing chords and up several gears to the point where his dexterity and command allow me to obscurely name-drop Kenny Drew Jr, just in case anyone wasn't put off by Chabrier.
In this trio Downes allows, encourages his long-standing sparring partners and friends Callum Gourlay on bass and James Maddren on drums to have equal prominence. These three fine and civilized players have grown together and respect each others' space. I look forward to the new album appearing in the autumn. And longer term I look forward to watching the directions all three of these musicians choose to take as their confidence and experience grow. Things are just beginning to happen for all three of them. Anything is possible. Hold on to your hats.