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I’ve been getting badly behind with my reviews. I hope to catch up soon, although one or two of them might be single paragraph throwaways rather than anything in depth.

Downes – Burton – Argüelles – Maddren

The Griffin, Thursday October 20th

It might be down to easier, cheaper transport, or perhaps to developments in software and the internet making the exchange of ideas and parts easier, but bands like this, where different members are based in different locations, seem to be getting more common. London-based pianist Kit Downes and Glasgow-based bassist Euan Burton had apparently wanted to work together for some time, and finally managed to find time in their schedules for this collaboration.

It was only the second ever performance by this group, but even if they didn’t quite have the spontaneous togetherness of a good regular working band, they put on a very good concert. And it was great to see that it was both very busy and attended by lots of young people.

Kit Downes played Fender electric piano throughout: whether this was a deliberate artistic choice, or simply forced on him by the Griffin’s lack of a conventional piano, I don’t know, but he managed to make it sound very good. The best electric piano playing seems to come when the performer uses it as an instrument in its own right, making the most of its distinctive sound, rather than just using it as a bad substitute for an acoustic piano, and Downes was definitely playing electric piano as electric piano. Julian Argüelles was his usual excellent, unflashy self, with his fiery tenor solo on the closing number getting cheered, not merely clapped, by the audience. James Maddren had been here a couple of weeks ago with Mark McKnight’s Organ Quartet, and on that occasion had restricted himself mainly to keeping the beat: here he opened up a lot, using his drums to colour and punctuate the music as well as providing the basic rhythm. Euan Burton on bass didn’t do anything showy but provided a firm backbone to support the other musicians’ playing.

The set included numbers by all four band members, plus a version of Ornette Coleman’s “Rambling” to get things underway. This was the concert’s one flaw: the quartet didn’t fully come across as having a single unified musical vision. There was some straightahead contemporary jazz, some more pastoral-sounding pieces, and the occasional venture into free jazz territory. But overall they were very good. I’d definitely like to hear them again, ideally once they’ve had enough time together to work out some pieces for this specific line-up, rather than having to rely on a set list patched together from different sources. They might also want to work on a shorter name.

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