The Safety Net: Kit Downes Trio – “Quiet Tiger”

The Safety Net, a Bird is the Worm series which highlights outstanding older albums that may have flown under the radar when first released.



I became familiar with UK pianist Kit Downes about a year ago.  I can’t quite recall the details of how it happened, and quite frankly, god knows how I come upon much of the music I do.  It was probably a tweet.  Somebody tweets out something about their new album with a link to a site where I can stream the music, and pretty much 100% of the time, I follow it.  I refuse to pass up an opportunity to listen to full songs streamed on a trusted site.  Anyways, my introduction to Downes was via his participation in the Threads Orchestra.  I wrote two different columns on their first album, titled Threads, first as part of the short-lived review series called First Impressions, then again, later, as a formal album review.  I then reviewed their follow-up album, Ranch.  Since then, I’ve covered Downes with other projects, including his membership in Troyka, the George Crowley Quartet, and The Golden Age of Steam (which will be getting reviewed very soon).

When a musician is involved in a bunch of projects that catch my ear, I go spend some time on their site.  I also pay attention to anything that mentions that musician’s name.  A bunch of labels got together and created a free music sampler, called Label Love, and available on Bandcamp.  That’s when I discovered 2011’s Quiet Tiger.  It’s working out pretty well for me.  This is a wonderful album.  Let’s talk about it…

Your album personnel:  Kit Downes (piano), Calum Gourlay (bass), James Maddren (drums), and guests: James Allsopp (bass clarinet & tenor sax) and Adrien Dennefeld (cello).

The album has a brooding temperament.  Some tracks, like album opener “Boreal,” have a stalking cadence, with each instrument on tip-toes.  Downes’ piano wends in between the cadence with lines that curl around the rhythm.

Some tracks play with tempo, like second track “Tambourine,” which sounds like straight-forward post-bop, but gets shifty at times and presents a shimmery icy sheen.  On drums, Maddren throws punches in bunches, and bass plays tug-of-war with the rhythm.  Piano sounds like its shadowboxing with the rhythm section at times.  Or how about “Frizzi Pazzi,” which is a lively throwback to the Keith Jarrett American Quartet.  Asynchronous lines, spastic rhythms, competing angles of progression, even the odd vocalizations… and yet it all moves forward as one, sounding tuneful and fun and exciting.

Many tracks sound like moonlight serenades.  On “With a View,” Allsopp’s sax sighs across the room, and Gourlay’s bass floats in the upper registers, bouncing along the ceiling.  And, of course, the composition “Attached,” which I originally fell for on Threads Orchestra‘s Threads.  Moody and dark, and yet strangely inviting.  Dennefeld’s cello brings the right ingredient to the tune, which was served equally well on Threads.  On that version, multiple strings and guitar were added for a more expansive, though still quite moody tune.  But on Quiet Tiger, Downes shows that the composition has room to breathe, and it affords the same opportunity to fill the air and sound Big, even when speaking very soft.  Just beautiful.

But it’s not all brooding and melancholy.  Sixth track “In Brixen” begins with some sunny phrases on piano, with drums and bass offering up optimistic rhythms.  And seventh track “Wooden Birds” is a free form piece.  Sax wails, though often with its inside voice.  Piano runs circles about the room.  Drums chatter nervously.  And then there’s “Fonias.”  Downes’ piano in the spotlight for what amounts to a love song.  No idea what Kit Downes thinks the song is or what he intended, but this is an expressive tune with that particular mix of heartbreak and longing and hopefulness.  It’s a love song.

The album closes out with, first, “Skip James,” which has that rustic tone and gentle sway that I enjoy so much about Threads Orchestra.  This tune is nice and slow, ambles pleasantly from step to step.  Piano is delicate and light, but it’s the song delivered up by Gourlay’s bass that lies at the heart of this lovely tune.  When Allsopp’s sax enters near the end with some nifty harmonization, it’s a beautiful thing.  Quiet Tiger then reaches its finale with the title-track, and with the same brooding temperament initially stated in album-opener “Boreal.”  It’s a great way to go out.

Don’t let this one get by you.  It’s wonderful albums like these is why I have the Safety Net review series.

Worth noting that it appears that Kit Downes has a new album coming out in 2013, with the same quintet, though with a different person in the cello seat.  Something more to look forward to.

Released in 2011 on the Basho Records label.

Jazz from the UK scene.

Download a free album track at AllAboutJazz, courtesy of the artist and label.

And here’s a link to that free Label Love Jazz Edition sampler on Bandcamp.

Available at eMusic.  Available at Amazon: CD | MP3