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Kit DownesKit Downes plays piano with his own Trio and Quintet, the groups Troyka and The Golden Age of Steam and several other collaborations including the award winning Troykestra. Until 2008, he played with the band Empirical, but left in 2008, as did trumpeter Jay Phelps, to develop other projects.

In the December 2007/ January 2008 edition of the magazine Jazzwise Kit was named by Helen Mayhew of the Jazz DAB radio programme as one of the musicians to look out for in 2008. The recommendation was underlined by Kit receiving the Rising Star Award in the BBC Jazz Awards in July 2008, and receiving a Yamaha-Classic FM Scholarship Award in July 2009.

Kit started playing the piano at the age of 12 and having played Bach and Beethoven, was inspired by a recording of Oscar Peterson. His family home is in Norwich. In an interview with BBC Norfolk he said, ' I try to come (home) as much as possible as it's always really relaxing ...but I love playing in Norwich. There are some lovely venues like the King Of Hearts, The Playhouse and John InnesKit Downes'.

He took a degree at The Royal Academy of Music having first trained at London's Purcell School of Music. He has played to audiences for some years but since the increasing popularity of Empirical and Troyka, the demands on his time from performing, recording and studying have grown steadily.

At the time Kit was with Empirical, the band included Jay Phelps (trumpet/voice), Nathaniel Facey (alto sax/voice), Kit Downes (piano), Tom Farmer (double bass) [previously Neil Charles (bass)] and Shane Forbes (drums/percission). Produced by Courtney Pine, the band won the inaugural EBU/European Jazz Competition in July 2007. The award, which took place at the North Sea Jazz Festival in Empirical Rotterdam is one of those presented to encourage and promote young musicians in jazz ensembles.

Empirical - photograph courtesy of Jazz Steps

They also played on Radio Three and on Radio Four (Front Row) and appeared at the Glastonbury Festival. They also won the Jazzwise Album of the Year for 2007 and have now won the Peter Wittingham Jazz Award. Four of the players are also graduates of Tomorrow's Warriors, an organisation founded in 1992 by double bassist Gary Crosby from the original Jazz Warriors to nurture and develop talented young jazz musicians, whilst Jay Phelps and Nathaniel Facey have been part of Courtney Pine's Jazz Warriors Afropeans.

In his interview with BBC Norfolk, Kit said, 'It's pretty weird, but you've got to be realistic about it. An album doesn't last a long time, one album on its own, especially from a young jazz band. It's an amazing starting point but I think Empirical really want to build on it. There's a massive understanding of jazz out there but people's preconceptions are quite different. What I like about Empirical is that it approaches lots of different genres, but still keeps what people hear as jazz'.

That 'starting point' has been underlined by the success of the 2009 'Troyka' album. Troyka is Kit on keyboards with Chris Montague (guitars) and Joshua Blackmore (drums). The band was formed in 2007 for a gig at the Derby Jazz Festival (click here for a video) and has since played at a number of venues in London and Birmingham.

To listen to some of their music and to see where they will be playing click here: www.myspace.com/troykaband. Again in his interview with BBC Norfolk, Kit says, 'We all write for (Troyka) and it's very much our thing. We find at gigs guys really loving it because it has a lot of rock in it - not particularly savage, just that attitude - that kind of feeling.'

Kit set up the band - The Golden Age of Steam - with James Allsop (reeds) and Tim Giles (drums) signed to Babel records..

You can listen to interviews with Kit, hear some of his piano playing and see more pictures by clicking here on the BBC Norfolk website: www.bbc.co.uk/norfolk, go to Kit's own website at www.myspace.com/kitsmusic or see a video of Empirical by clicking here on the Vortex Jazz site.

Jazz Steps, the website for jazz around Nottingham and Nottinghamshire also have details and a picture of Empirical from a gig in January 2007 by clicking on: Jazz Steps.

In 2009, Kit released his album 'Golden' with bassist Calum Gourlay and drummer James Maddren and followed this with a UK tour. He is also made a two-piano record 'Homely', with Tom Cawley. Each pianist has contributed four compositions and there is additional percussion by Joshua Blackmore on two of them.

In 2010 Kit recorded a solo album Live At The Wardrobe, 2010. This is an impressive album of very listenable piano jazz from one of the UK's brightest stars. There are four extended tracks of compositions by Kit, andKit Downes Live at the Wardrobe album one short finale of Rufus Wainwright's The Art Teacher. Magic Cat Man, The Bemsha Wizard brings us breathtaking piano playing right from the word go. In contrast Skip James (named after the blues guitarist) is a slow blues, and View/Monk's Dream begins with pianistic wind chimes with the tune gradually building beneath. Kit says: 'The View is inspired by people who are so open-minded that they can see everything with clarity'. Bill's Idea (a homage to Bill Frisell) is a little more esoteric, but the jaw-dropping playing and constant flow of ideas are an inspiration. Live At The Wardrobe, 2010 is available direct from Kit. Click here.

On 20 July, 2010, 'Golden' was put forward as a nomination for the £20,000 Mercury Prize, alongside artists such as Dizzee Rascal, Paul Weller and The XX (who were announced as the winners). "It's amazing. Very unexpected but very enjoyable as well," said Kit.

In 2011, the Trio is back on record this time Kit Downes (piano), James Maddren (drums) and Calum Gourlay (bass) have special guests Adrien Dennefield (cello) and Kit Downes Quiet TigerJames Allsopp (tenor saxophone and bass clarinet), and we think the guests have been well invited.

We agree with the publicity for Quiet Tiger when it says: '.. it is the extra 'voicings' that the addition of cello and horns (often with Allsopp over-dubbed on both horns) allow that really bring Downes' music into focus, expanding his musical palate and allowing for a richer, deeper, more expressive sound that perfectly complements his evocative narratives and explosive improvisational journeys'.

The other thing about this album Quiet Tiger is its range. From the gentle, sensitive performances of the tunes In Brixen (inspired by a town inKit Downes South Tirol) and Fonias; to the haunting cello on With A View; on to the more complex tracks Wooden Birds and The Wizards (named for James Allsopp) and then the bluesy Skip James (named after the obscure bluesman) with fine playing by Calum Gourlay. Kit's formidable piano playing ties it all together. You may have guessed by now that we like it.

The album was released on Basho records on 7th March 2011, and the Trio was on tour from February until May with the fine tenor player Josh Arceleo as well as James Allsopp. You can listen to Boreal, the first track from the album on Kit's MySpace site (click here).

I always find that listening to the Kit Downes Trio and Quintet is like having a good meal. The ingredients are fresh and beautifully cooked; there is substance to the meal but there are also Kit Downes Light From Old Starsnew exciting flavours that have been blended well, and at the end, I always feel satisfied.

And so it is with Kit’s 2013 album, Light From Old Stars. The trio has now been together for some years since they were at college together. Each of them, Kit (piano and organ on this album), Calum Gourlay (bass) and James Maddren (drums) are always in demand to work with other groups, but together they always knit together beautifully. James Allsopp (tenor sax, clarinet and bass clarinet) and Lucy Railton (cello) make up the quintet and appeared on part of the earlier Quiet Tiger album. The tracks are all complete, live takes without the use of editing.

Light From Old Stars has liner notes written by Daniella Scalice from the NASA Astrobiology Institute and are something of a lesson in astronomy, but the core messages are to do with light being intimately linked with life. Kit first met Daniella at the Cheltenham Science Festival and became intrigued by the notion that the stars we see are often dead but we still see their light. Speaking of constant changes in the universe Daniella says: ‘All these dynamic goings on in the heavens are betrayed by the permanence, the stillness we actually experience when we look up, a steady evenness portrayed in this music, but stars also in their slow way reflect our own cycle of building, growing, peaking, declining and ending – as heard in Wander and Collossus (the opening track on the album).’

Writing in The Guardian, John Fordham said: ‘But old stars of the jazz kind illuminate the album: while this is a boldly contemporary quintet set … jazz-piano legends such as Paul Bley and Jan Johansson get salutes, while the 1970s Keith Jarrett quartets glimmer distantly and Downes's affection for traditional blues is plain.’ In The Times, John Bungey said: ‘.. this new album reveals his consummate writing skills on a mixture of blues, grooves, free-ish jazz and wilful knottiness … his line-up adding an array of new colours on what’s as engaging a modern British jazz album as you’ll hear this year.’

Light From Old Stars is another excellent album from one of today's key UK jazz musicians and his Quintet.

Click here to sample the album. Click here for a shorter video version of Outlawed (track 3) recorded live for BBC Radio 3’s Jazz On 3 at The Cockpit, London on 29 April 2013, performed to an animation by Lesley Barnes ‘Herzog and the Monsters.’ It illustrates how well the bass and cello work together. Click here for Kit’s website where you can listen to the first track Wander and Collossus.


Tricko and Waira

Kit Downes and Lucy Railton

By 2014, Kit Downes has developed a wide range of projects; successful collaborations that have brought a wealth of new jazz composition and performance. In that time he has also become recognised as one of the best jazz keyboard players in the UK. The evidence is documented in his albums, gig reviews and awards, including the 2014 Parliamentary Jazz Award for Troykestra ‘Live At Cheltenham 13 Jazz Festival’ as Album Of The Year.

Now Kit is introducing a new project – Tricko – whose forthcoming album Tricko-Tareco is described as  ‘music (that is) is expansive in scope, sonically rich - and enjoys simple things put in unusual ways.’ Tricko includes the cello of Lucy Railton (curator and creator of London Contemporary Music Festival and Klammer Klang, performer with dancer Akram Kahn and composer Pauline Oliveros).  Kit had started writing for cello and the instrument appears in his recent Quintet gigs as well as the album Light From Old Stars. Kit’s website describes the move as Kit ‘vicariously living out his dream as a frustrated cellist.’

Tricko has placed a recording on Soundcloud of their absorbing tune Waira that we recommend you take a minute or two to hear.

Click here to listen to Waira. Click here for Kit's website where you can here more of his playing.

Kit is a fine pianist. Try to find the opportunity to listen to some of his music.

From Corey Mwamba (January 2008)

I've just seen you highlight Kit Downes - a great musician. I'd also suggest the drummer he plays with in Troyka, Josh Blackmore. Josh is also in Tow Cawley's Curios trio. I much prefer Kit and Josh in Troyka - engaging collective work.

© Sandy Brown Jazz and Kit Downes 2008-2015

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