Dreamlife of Debris (ECM)

Kit Downes

Released October 25, 2019

BBC Music Magazine Greatest Jazz Albums 2020






Dreamlife of Debris carries forward the story begun on Kit Downes’s Obsidian, extending and developing its processes and core ideas. But where Obsidian was (almost exclusively) a solo church organ album, part of Kit’s plan for Dreamlife was to put the organ in a broader context, and also to bring the piano into the larger compositional picture. Musicians in the project are primarily players with whom the British keyboardist has had long associations – saxophonist Tom Challenger, cellist Lucy Railton, drummer Seb Rochford – and there is 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.
Saxophonist Tom Challenger, who had a cameo role on Obsidian, has more to contribute here, not only featured as one of the primary instrumental voices but also co-composing the concluding track, “Blackeye”. Downes and Challenger had maintained an organ/sax duo for eight years prior to Dreamlife. With the present project, Downes brings the piano also into the picture. The bright opening section of “Sculptor”, the first track here, rings the changes, with alert sparkling piano gradually dissolving into organ drones.
Lucy Railton, previously heard with Kit on the ECM debut of Thomas Strønen’s ensemble Time Is A Blind Guide (2015), has also played Downes’s compositions for piano and cello in their duo Tricko. As a lapsed cellist– he’d played the instrument himself as a child – Kit says he takes a vicarious pleasure in writing for Railton, as can be adduced from the elegant “Pinwheel”.
The association between Seb Rochford and Downes – revived here on “Blackeye” – goes back a decade to a period when Kit occasionally played with the rock-influenced jazz group Acoustic Ladyland. Rochford drummed for that ensemble; the bassist was Ruth Goller, who contributes the haunting composition “M7” to Dreamlife, which Kit plays on solo organ, underlining the connections to Obsidian.
Guitarist Stian Westerhus was integrated into the project for a final session of improvising in Huddersfield. A mysterious presence, his sounds bubble to the fore in the middle of the track called “Bodes.”
Kit Downes was an organ scholar at St Peter Mancroft in Norwich before going on to study piano, organ and composition at the Purcell School and the Royal Academy of Music. He recorded and toured widely with the band Empirical while also working with – among others Django Bates and Lee Konitz.
He has led and co-led a number of groups in the last decade, including the trios Troyka and Quiet Tiger, the Neon Quartet (with Stan Sulzmann), and the quintet Light From Old Stars. Current projects include, in addition to solo piano and pipe organ performances, collaborations with saxophonist Tom Challenger, cellist Lucy Railton, composer Shiva Feshareki and with the band Enemy with Petter Eldh and James Maddren.
The recipient of a number of prizes, including the BBC Jazz award and the British Jazz Award, Kit Downes was a made a Fellow of the Royal Academy in their Honours List of 2019. In the Down Beat International Critics Poll of 2019, he was voted # 1 Rising Star in both Piano and Keyboard categories.

Track Listing:

1. Sculptor (Kit Downes) 06:01

2. Circinus (Kit Downes) 04:15

3. Pinwheel (Kit Downes) 04:07

4. Bodes (Kit Downes) 12:41

5. Sunflower (Kit Downes) 02:31

6. M7 (Ruth Goller) 05:25

7. Twin (Kit Downes) 04:24

8. Blackeye (Tom Challenger / Kit Downes) 05:16


Kit Downes: piano, organ

Tom Challenger: sax

Lucy Railton: cello

Stian Westerhuis: guitar

Sebastian Rochford: drums

Recorded November 2018, at St. Paul’s Hall, University of Huddersfield and St. John the Baptist, Snape
Engineer: Alex Bonney
Produced by Sun Chung


Kit Downes follows 2018’s Obsidian album, an idiosyncratic solo exploration of the pipe organ, with this quintet work of other-worldly beauty.

Although largely improvised around pre-written themes (the pieces are named after galaxies), studio edits and overlays were used to heighten the sound’s celestial textures. Downes stays at the centre of the music and, while sax player Tom Challenger is never far away, the other players move in and out of orbit.

‘Sculptor’ sets the scene, Downes’s limpid piano figures combining with Challenger’s piping tenor lines, all set against a diaphanous organ drone. ‘Pinwheel’ has a creepy theme spelled out by the piano, haunted by Railton’s cello accompaniment and Rochford’s rustling cymbals. The segue into ‘Bodes’ passes almost unnoticed until Norwegian Stian Westerhuis’s guitar launches steely sheets of sound and deep space reverberation.

The programme is consummated by ‘Blackeye’, Rochford’s snare and splashing ride cymbals assailing the organ’s grandiose edifice of sound. It is jazz – but not as we know it.

Garry Booth (BBC Music Magazine)