Jazz Review: Kit Downes Qunitet

Levontin 7, Tel Aviv, February 28.

Guitar concert music performance audience Jazz 390 (photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
Guitar concert music performance audience Jazz 390
(photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
British pianist Kit Downes and his quintet’s concert at Levontin 7 on Tuesday was truly a breath of fresh air. Downes was last here in 2010, along with bassist Calum Gourlay and drummer James Maddren, when he wowed Levontin 7 audiences with a couple of shows that displayed an impressive range of musical attacks. In the intervening couple of years, Downes has put out another CD, Quiet Tiger, and is due to record another next month.
Material from the latter formed the core of Tuesday’s show, which featured Gourlay and Maddren, along with reedman James Allsopp – who appeared at the 2006 Jerusalem Jazz Festival – and cellist Tracy Railton. Judging by the half dozen numbers the band played, Downes has obviously made great strides in the interim as a composer and a performer.
Downes’s musical points of reference say much about where the 20something pianist comes from. The hour-long set included homages to pianist Paul Bley and guitarist Bill Frisell, as well as Swedish pianist Jan Johansson, who died in 1968. The Frisell nod, “Handles,” was a lilting exploratory escapade that meandered through the soft fabric of a funky undercurrent into a mini-orchestral jaunt. Snug piano chords jousted with bittersweet cello and velvety acoustic bass lines and segued into a delightfully bluesy bass solo before Allsopp moved from clarinet to bass clarinet and extended and embellished the bluesy sentiment. Maddren deftly played the solid anchor role throughout but also offered much in the way of textural and rhythmic decoration.
Unlike a lot of Israeli jazz musicians, Downes and his cohorts played very few groove excerpts, and there always seemed to be something going on, with surprising turns and development constantly cropping up. But there was never a sense that things might get overly busy, and all the members of the quintet exuded a sense of fun and calm, even when negotiating the most intricate of passages.
Hopefully, Downes and his band will make their way back to these parts again before too long.