Bob Downes

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Reviews of Bob Downes


02/05/2009 Nic Jones ~ All About Jazz

Here's another of Reel's exercises in twentieth century tape archaeology. Like earlier efforts, it has the practical effect of sealing another hole in the documented fabric of British jazz and improvised music from the last four decades of that century. It's highly worthwhile too, this labor of love, as on this occasion it yields a program of music every bit as inventive as that produced by bigger stars--the term is as good as meaningless in the circumstances--of the day. Recorded at the end of the '70s, this music is both timeless and symbolic of moments in time when the players came together informally to tease the music from out of the ether.

Although primarily a flautist, it's the pieces that document Downes on alto or tenor sax that are the most compelling. His alto sound on “Sad Senorita” is significantly textural, and has an edge both grainy and acerbic. In the company of the underrated Brian Godding on guitar it does a dance at once lively yet downbeat in emulation of the title. Drummer John Stevens, in marked contrast to his work with the Spontaneous Music Ensemble, shows how propulsive he could be in a relatively more orthodox setting, while the basses of Barry Guy and Mark Meggido conspire never to get in each others' way, lending impetus to the music's open feel.

Downes plays both alto and tenor sax on the opening “Jungle Chase,” in addition to flute and the Columbian pan flute he opens the piece on. His facility as a flautist is brought home. His rounded, full-bodied tone is never reduced to mere piping and the effect is that of a wholehearted improviser working the moment as though it's the most precious thing. The impression is reinforced when he switches to alto sax about nine minutes in, with Guy again on bass tracking developments.

Trombonist Paul Rutherford crops up on “Basking In The Sun,” a piece which is the embodiment of propulsive atmosphere. Downes' flute is at its most lyrical and the music coalesces in a manner that soundtracks the activity of the title most effectively. Rutherford, at his most necessarily conventional, reminds us of how lovely his tone was. The relative brevity of the piece is fine in itself, an example of open music in the most rewarding sense of the term.


02/02/2009 Paris Transatlantic

Flutist and saxophonist Bob Downes was a sometime associate of Tippett's and also worked in bassist Barry Guy's London Jazz Composers' Orchestra (appearing on Ode, Incus 1972) and guitarist Ray Russell's Rock Workshop. However, it's with his Open Music outfit that he made his mark in creative improvisation, recording for Philips and his own Openian label from 1969 until 1974. Crossing Borders, comprising studio recordings from 1978 and 1979, is yet another archival resurrection courtesy of Reel Recordings. Downes is joined here by Guy, as well as drummers Denis Smith and John Stevens and other British jazz regulars, on five original compositions inspired by time spent in South America with the London Contemporary Dance Theatre. If you're expecting a free-improv session because of Stevens, Guy and trombonist Paul Rutherford (who appears on "Basking in the Sun" only), then Downes' vamp-heavy, highly rhythmic music might come as a bit of a surprise. As a soloist, he alternates yelps and shouts on flute with sharp, biting saxophone work. The lengthy "Jungle Chase" is indicative of these approaches, beginning with a duo between the darting, woody elisions of Downes' Colombian pipes and Guy's supple pizzicato. Switching to a Western flute, he approaches classical poise atop a shapeshifting vamp, before changing direction into chiaroscuro, bent notes and birdsong that seamlessly blend folksong and art-music. "Sad Señorita" – which adds Mark Meggido on second bass and guitarist Brian Godding (ex-Blossom Toes) – starts off as a lazy blues, with Godding's vibrato hanging well behind the rhythm section's easy lope. Alto curlicues add keening lace around electrified wisps and simple fragments, and the ensemble breaks into dance as Guy's arco sings beneath an open window.


16/12/2008 Dusty Groove

Some of the most stripped-down and personal work we've ever heard from British reedman Bob Downes -- quite different than the jazz rock vibe of some of his Open Music albums of the early 70s, but equally great music overall! There's almost an Ogun Records feel to the set -- as Bob is in a relaxed, open setting the really lets him improvise freely -- working with players who include Barry Guy on bass, John Stevens on drums, Brian Godding on guitar, and Paul Rutherford on trombone. The lineup shifts a bit in the set, but always has a really organic, collaborative feel -- and the music's never too far outside, nor too free -- just freely expressive in really great ways.


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