Bob Downes Open Music
Blowin’ With Bass

As luck would have it, pioneering British prog-jazzer Bob Downes has had a clutch of his seventies’ back catalogue reactivated through the Esoteric Recordings label over the past few years. Notably, a couple of eminently collectable Vertigo ‘swirls’ and, truth being stranger than fiction….one from the budget empire that was ‘Music for Pleasure’ (!). 1

So it’s a rare treat to report that there are even more archive recordings from this saxist/flute player to be devoured. On this occasion, the material is a previously unreleased set of dialogues between Bob and a four-strong selection of string bassists. Two with their roots buried deep in the U.K. avant garde and two who have plied their trade in more, shall we say, conventional/linear situations. This collection, pieced together over a thirty-year span, opens with Bob being shadowed by Marc Meggido (ex of Talisker and SME splinter group Free Space). His sinuous lines merging with Mr. D’s flute on the far too brief “Occidental Oriental” and “Dawn Dreams”, which seems to vaguely echo remnants of ‘The Man from Uncle’ t.v. theme, reduced to half speed.

The following set finds our man with Barry Guy (ex Iskra 1903, SME, etc. etc. etc.) and was captured at the Wigmore Hall, London, back in 1975. The fittingly titled, slow building “Dark Corners” is the longest track at 12.57. Its flute ectoplasm, faux birdshriek and dadaist vocal splutter reduces the room temperature in much the same way as those passages emanating from White Noise’s debut waxing. It’s certainly the odd man out on a white elephant, but a major find after all these years growing mould, no doubt, on some neglected shelf.

Former Don Weller and Mike Cotton sideman Paul Bridge and Andrew Cleyndert (of the Bryan Spring Trio a.o.), make up the remaining four stringers. The former’s assertive bassings ably complement the weird Cab Calloway at the Cabaret Voltaire hep jive of “Cocowanna”. Bob dips his toe in a bit of Roland Kirk-style multi-tasking here, where sax, scatting, pitch pipes and shaker are ‘recorded simultaneously’ (!). And lastly, a recording from a private party at Mutlangen concludes the running order and has Bob teaming up with Andrew for the very first time ever – not that you’d notice it. “Joyride” showcases a tumbling cascade of soprano sax sonorities, while “Bluesing” (with reasons best left to the duo), conceals a brief snatch or two of Cannonball Adderley’s much covered “Work Song”. An in joke perhaps?

The somewhat self-deprecatin’ title belies a crisply recorded archive gem and would be considered a worthy addition to any serious collection of Brit progjazz.

  1. See Deep Down Heavy, released as MFP 1412 in 1970 in the UK.

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