2010’s Mercury nominated jazz release is finely polished trio fare.
Phil Smith 2010
Far from run-of-the-mill in its content, Golden is a more traditional-sounding jazz album than those which have occupied the genre’s obligatory place on the Mercury shortlists of recent years. Led Bib’s nomination last year swaggered in rock-riff crossover appeal, while the gamelan-influenced minimalism of Portico Quartet in 2008 occupied a novel sound-world as unorthodox as, though very different to, that of Basquiat Strings before them. And though, like its immediate predecessors, the Kit Downes Trio will likely end up also-rans come the Mercury ceremony proper, this jazz thoroughbred is nonetheless worthy of its place. And no-one had to buy a hang or hire Seb Rochford or anything.
Downes may be well-known to jazz fans for his more experimental work with Troyka and The Golden Age Of Steam (bands that might arguably be more Mercury-likely), but this acoustic setting (with bassist Calum Gourlay and James Maddren on drums) has produced his finest composing and playing so far recorded. On the Debussy-tinged title-track and the sparsely-textured Madame, his placement of chords, octaves and single notes is masterful in its restraint, while A Dance Took Place showcases the 24-year-old’s ability to execute urgent, harmony-stretching right-hand lines.
It’s the trio as a whole though that shines on Golden, easing us in with the nothing-to-hear-here nonchalance of Jump Minzi Jump’s opening minutes, the opening calm of a multi-tempo form that whips up a storm in its central section. Homely maps out a similar course from a discrete melodic theme to expansive soloing and begins in a Schumann-like vein (an irresistible, long-lined tune) before Gourlay brings in a riff that frees-up the classical impulse. The complex Power and Patience follows, and the group are tight-knit, shifting between the many moods of a form appropriately unpredictable for a piece inspired by a grizzly bear with a grudge.
Of the other notable UK trios releases from 2009, Golden is a more concise statement than Gwilym Simcock’s Blues Vignette and more polished than Huw Warren’s Hermeto+, making it Mercury material. At times, the album has a similar-sounding melodic instinct to that of Brad Mehldau on his most recent Highway Rider form, though the communication and interplay between Downes, Gourlay and Maddren in many ways looks back to the American’s more complex Art of the Trio records. Tom’s Tune ends things with a foot in both camps: effortlessly swinging in three whilst playing a tug-of-war with tempo as phrases pull up towards their end before charging on again.
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