on life, music etc beyond mainstream

2022 12 Feb

Kit Downes, Petter Eldh, James Maddren – Vermillion

von: Brian Whistler Filed under: Blog | TB | 4 Comments


Kit Downes’ new trio album is a pure joy to listen to. Downes has a beautiful touch on piano and demonstrates he is quite capable of fresh invention, both compositionally and improvisationally. His playing here is lyrical and poetic, yet he’s not afraid to occasionally venture into darker tonalities, suddenly juxtaposing angular phrases to more conventionally melodic motifs. For the most part, these tunes are rather unpredictable –  not many melodies here one might find oneself singing in the shower, yet paradoxically, these evanescent pieces, even at their most abstract, are approachable, inviting the listener to revisit them for a deeper dive.

There is a sense of a keen, disciplined intellect at work here, imbued with purposeful passion, resulting in a high wire balancing act of head and heart. Downes has obviously studied Bach. He employs precise contrapuntal lines in his left hand, that when deployed, add extra layers of texture and musical depth.  

Although largely a dreamy affair, tunes like the upbeat Sandilands, or Waders, a medium tempo composition, evince plenty of muscular playing and show off the fine level of interaction that only a long standing trio can muster. Sister Sister is perhaps the most tender offering while Class Fails, a gospel tinged short ruminative piece, reveals the elegiac,  contemplative side of the trio. 

Special mention must be made of the brilliant cover of Jimi Hendrix tune, Castles Made of Sand. It’s an abstract version which barely references the original melody. This is the kind of cover I love – as opposed to the Wasilewski trio’s recent tepid and overly literal cover of The Doors Riders of the Storm, the trio here uses it as a jumping off point to explore nooks and crannies I believe Jimi would’ve been happily surpised to hear.

The writing chores were evenly split between Downes and bassist Petter Eldh. Eldh’s pieces tend to be the more energetic contributions, while Downes writing tends towards the introspective. James Maddren, drums, gives tasteful support throughout. He seems to know just what is required and leaves out the extraneous. Eldh’s playing is interactive and always in service to the whole sound – he has flawless intonation,  a deep round tone, and his melodic approach reminds me at times of a young Marc Johnson. 

There are many fine new trios popping up these days. Besides their superb musicianship, what distinguishes this trio from the others is their subtle (and sometimes extreme) use of dynamics, something one rarely hears used in such a startlingly effective, musical manner. The trio seems to know this material well – it sounds already lived in and comfortable, enabling the unit to explore and interact at a deep level; the music really breathes here. With his refined, classical touch and technical precision, married to a strong rhythmic and innate melodic sensibility, at times Downes reminds me of the late John Taylor, which is meant as the highest compliment. My favorite ECM release so far this year. 


This entry was posted on Samstag, 12. Februar 2022 and is filed under "Blog". You can follow any responses to this entry with RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.


  1. Michael Engelbrecht:

    Insightful review, Brian. Makes you want to listen to it (again) immediately.

  2. Brian Whistler:

    Thanks Michael. To me, this recording is what ECM is all about.

  3. Michael Engelbrecht:

    A world in a nutshell, so to speak :)

    That‘s what I call an in-depth review.

  4. Brian Whistler:

    Thanks Michael. I improved it slightly.

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