Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Kit Downes & Tom Challenger: Wedding Music (Loop Records, 2013) *****

Reviewed by Joe

Gothic jazz arrives, and in grand style! There aren't many organ and brass/woodwind duos, not that I can think of? One record that comes to mind is the glorious "PIPEDREAM" from Keith Tippett and Mark Charig on Ogun records, another - although I haven't heard it - was Jan Garbarek and Kjell Johnsen on "Aftenland" in 1979. Here from Loop records is "Wedding Music", an apt title for music such as this played by Kit Downs (organ) and Tom Challenger (tenor sax).

From the very start the music is majestic, there's no other way to describe such a sound. "Wedding Music" is exactly that, swirling organ just like one hears coming from the local church on wedding days. Kit Downes manages to coax some extraordinary sounds from the pipes. Clicks, atonal clusters, thuds, throbbing sounds, pulsating sub-woofer noises, they're all in there. I guess a lot of the music is improvised yet the duo manage to introduce melodic content into their music whilst finding some really interesting sounds.

As the album progresses the duo move further into a world of sound that is quite unique. Although the albums starts off (quite) normally with the title track "Wedding Music", the duo start to really experiment with textures over the remaining pieces. "Shos" (tk2) has a very sinister type of melody line, here Kit Downes responds to Tom Challenger's melodic improvisations with some serious sonic blasts which make your whole room rumble! "Optics" (tk3) on the other hand starts with tiny tone clusters which hang in the air. You can really hear the atmosphere of the church (recorded in St Paul’s, Huddersfield, UK) as these delicate tones meld together with the sax sounding like a boat lost way out at sea. By the time you get to "Cooks" (tk4) you're ready for anything, and indeed what sounds like a pneumatic drill is in fact the organ! However, interestingly the duo turn this piece into an intimate sound world with the tenor sax playing some flusters of breathy sound over the gentle but dissonant chordal sound.

The last tracks really come together beautifully in an unexpected way. "Restart" (tk5) has sub-sonic chords that hang so delicately in the air forever. The sax touches at these chords like a painter just adding slight dashes of colour to a canvas, aware that one mark too many could spoil the balance totally. "Rat Catcher", the last track is full of silences that are broken by a wheezing organ, or broken bagpipes, yet the duo manage to squeeze a beautiful major chord right at the last second bringing to an end this unique album.  

A very highly recommended album.  

If you don't know Tom Challenger or Kit Downes it's worthwhile checking out some of the groups they're are involved in (although not together): [Ma], the collective group Outhouse, Troyka, The Golden Age of Steam are just a few names that I know. If you visit the individual websites you'll get to discover a very wide range of interesting musical projects.

You can find the album (only a digital download) on the Loop Collective bandcamp page.

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