The Golden Age of Steam Raspberry Tongue Review

Released 2010.  

BBC Review

Shows how much scope jazz has for new combinations of instruments.

Kevin Le Gendre 2010

This could be seen as a meeting of generations in British jazz. Thirty-something members of Fraud, tenor saxophonist-bass clarinetist James Allsopp and drummer Tim Giles, join forces with 20-something keyboardist Kit Downes, currently of Troyka and latterly of Empirical, to create an ensemble that has the kind of vigour and verve one would expect, given the respective track records of the aforementioned.

There is a bold, puckish subversion in Downes’ use of the Hammond organ, which in a trio setting is usually deployed as a robust, dense attack dog whose low end and upper register chords are all bouncing gospel groove. However, Downes is consistently sparing with his bass pedals and favours a lot of needle-like single note lines that introduce a great deal of breathing space into the overall sound palette, which at times drifts as much into the haze of ambient music as it does jazz. Needless to say jazz was doing ambient music before electronica grabbed the term, but it’s just that the likes of Anthony Braxton, Richard Teitelbaum et al were minded to call their glacial abstractions tone poetry.

Yet if there is impressive delicacy in Allsopp’s hushed, pointedly concise phrases, Giles’ lithe, at times smartly offbeat patterns on the kit and Downes’ blurring, harp-like spirals on the organ then they are often obliterated by explosions of rhythmic zest in which the horn’s sigh turns to a croak and locks in with the keyboard’s globular bass while its high trills conjure snarling guitarish distortion. Some of the pieces are sketches of ideas that are not developed to their full extent and Downes could touch his middle register a bit more just to broaden the range of timbres and give the music more weight without any excess bulk. Yet The Golden Age of Steam offer a tasty spin on trio music, showing how much scope jazz has for new combinations of instruments, and as such stands loosely in the lineage of Tim Berne’s feted Hard Cell and the not so feted Ibrahim Electric.

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