Kit Downes ‘Dreamlife of Debris’ LP/CD (ECM) 5/5

“Dreamlife of Debris” is pianist/organist/composer Kit Downes’ second release for the ECM label, extending and developing further the core ideas heard on his first recording “Obsidian”. This new release benefits from music performed in a much wider context, featuring long-time collaborators saxophonist Tom Challenger, cellist Lucy Railton and drummer Seb Rochford. There’s also a first musical encounter with Norwegian guitarist Stian Westerhus.

The album is drawn from sessions recorded at two UK locations – the 13th century church of St John the Baptist in the village of Snape in the Suffolk countryside and St Paul’s Hall (a converted 19th century church) at Huddersfield University – where the musicians arrived to variously interact with Downes. The instrumentalists meet – as Downes puts it – “in a space with no singular character”, with a dream-like ambience being created through overdubs and collage. Although the players do not come together as an ensemble, their appearance as individuals in changing constellations influences the direction of the shape-shifting music triggered by Downes’s improvising, arranging and composing.

The intuitive, effortlessly ethereal understanding between Downes and saxophonist Challenger is built on years of performing and recording together, and it shows. When two musicians of this calibre share the same wavelength at an identical moment in time, the results, as heard here, are quite simply stunning. Downes and Challenger had maintained an organ/sax duo for eight years prior to this recording, yet it is the introduction of piano from Downes that brings a new light and breath of fresh air to the session. The bright opening section of “Sculptor”, the first track here, rings the changes, with alert sparkling piano gradually dissolving into organ drones. Downes’ intelligent use of piano and organ works wonderfully, with a deft touch from the composer skilfully weaving the two instruments’ different sounds into a thoughtful, elegant tapestry of sound.

Each tune develops into its own journey, with time and space for us to take in the beauty that surrounds us. I’m also taken by Downes’ ability to surprise the listener, as on the ambitious “Bodes”, with its stark, bereft, industrial soundscape, and the closing piece “Blackeye” which features an energised Seb Rochford.

There are moments of absolute bliss as Downes and Challenger touch the soul on the mournful yet sublime “Twin”. Downes’ flexibility with, and vast understanding of the sounds that can be nurtured from the organ cannot be underestimated. “Sunflower” is the perfect example of this, as he conjures ideas and sounds that are at once other-worldly and yet somehow still grounded in earthly tradition.

The music on “Dreamlife of Debris” has a timeless quality to it that is a rare gift. Immerse yourself in it and you will be carried away by its beauty. It has intrigue, it has depth, it has wonder. It is unique – even for an ECM release.

Kit Downes and co are promoting the album with the following UK dates:
MAC Theatre, Birmingham (December 5)
Anteros Arts, Norwich (December 6)
King’s Place, London (December 7)

Mike Gates

Read also:
Kit Downes ‘Obsidian’ LP/CD (ECM) 3/5
Kit Downes and Tom Challenger ‘Vyamanikal’ CD (Slip) 4/5
Kit Downes Trio ‘Quiet Tiger’ CD (Basho) 4/5