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Glasgow Jazz Festival 2011

Glasgow Art Club, Wednesday 29th June

The Kit Downes Trio’s debut album was nominated for the Mercury Music Prize in 2010, and the more cynical amongst us might worry that this meant that what they played was a trendy jazz-like noise designed to appeal to media-hipsters rather than the real thing. Last night’s gig put all such fears to rest.

The trio – Kit Downes on piano, Calum Gourlay on bass and James Maddren on drums – have a distinctive style, which seems to stem from the combination of two different approaches to the piano trio. At times, they sounded like a contemporary post-EST trio, with a lot of groove-based rhythms and ostinato bass lines. At others, they were reminiscent of the more cerebral side of the early 60s new wave: it came as no surprise when Downes said in the introduction to one tune that he was very fond of Paul Bley’s music. Personally it was this side of their music, with its more introverted feel and more dissonant harmonies, that I preferred.

I found it a slightly strange concert in that, while it was all excellently played, how much I actually liked the music varied not only piece to piece but sometimes passage to passage within an individual number. But there were several tunes I enjoyed wholeheartedly, particularly the tranquil “Johansen” and the most straightforwardly bluesy piece of the night, “Skip James”.

One thing I appreciated about the performance was that Downes told us who the other members of the band were several times during each half: all too often you only get a mumbled announcement, half-drowned out by applause, at the end of the evening. Gourlay and Maddren both have fine techniques and the ability to play in a variety of styles and rhythms, and made a significant contribution to each piece: it wasn’t just a pianist plus accompanyists but a trio of equals.

A fine start to the 25th Glasgow Jazz Festival then, with some inventive music from a trio of fine musicians. I haven’t yet seen any reviews of the night’s other concerts.