Mike Downes ‘Root Structure’ CD/DIG (Addo) 5/5

Here’s another helping of great jazz from Canada. Mike Downes is a bassist of some repute having been prominent on the Canadian jazz scene since the early 1980’s. Not only does he play wonderful bass but he is also a talented composer, arranger and educator. He’s played with the cream of the Canadian musicians and some of the biggest names in jazz including Pat Metheny, Chris Potter, Michael Brecker, Kenny Wheeler and John Taylor, to name just a few. On top of all this he is a Juno award winner for his 2014 album, ‘Ripple Effect’.

The emphasis for this album is melody. The album presents 10 compositions, the majority of which are written by Downes. There is even an interpretation of a Chopin ‘Prelude’. This is clearly a quartet of very talented musicians. As stated on Mike’s website, the album “has everything a jazz lover looks for in a record – outstanding compositions, tight ensemble play and dynamic soloing” and “demands repeated listens”. Is there anything more for me to say? Well, yes, plenty.

The quartet features the talents of Robie Botos (keyboards) Ted Quinlan (guitars) and Larnell Lewis (drums). The album opens with ‘Momentum’ and the first thing that one notices is the leader’s warm bass sound, deep and low-down. This seems to me to be a quite complex piece of writing which succeeds in displaying the evident skills of all involved. ‘Heart of the Matter’ is a spine-tingling ballad. The guitarist is well featured on this track. From mellow acoustic guitar we move to electric guitar reminiscent of John Scofield on ‘Miles’. Indeed, this could almost have been a Scofield composition in terms of the spirit of the piece. ‘Moving Mountains’ is different again, more intense than what has preceded it. Insistent pulsating rhythms are a characteristic of this tune. ‘The Raven’ is a delightful medium swing composition and amongst other delights, includes another feature for Downes. The title track is pure funkiness and drummer and bassist are clearly having fun on this one. More please. Then it’s back to more reflective material with ‘Flow’ with seductive guitar from Quinlan. A contemplative ‘Pre-Prelude’ follows and is a lovely feature for Botos. ‘Prelude and Variations’ is next. Aside from inspiring a certain Barry Manilow, this tune proves to be a perfect vehicle for these four master improvisers. This, for me, is the highlight of the album. The acoustic guitar fitting the mood of the piece perfectly.

The recording is completed by ‘Matter of the Heart’. A fine relaxed piece which brings to mind the best of Pat Metheny.

This album is as close to perfect as it is possible to get and fully warrants its rating here. Buy it!

Alan Musson