9 December 2013

Live Review: Kit Downes Trio & Pablo Held Trio at The Verdict

Kit Downes Trio/Pablo Held Trio

The Verdict, Brighton

Wednesday 4th December, 2013


    Everyone likes a bargain, especially during the festive period, and a bargain was certainly to be had at The Verdict, last Wednesday. This was a ‘buy one get one free’ special, with not just one, but two wonderful trios on the billing. Bargains and quality don’t necessarily go hand in hand, but this particular evening was certainly an exception to the rule. 

    The Kit Downes Trio enthralled and the Pablo Held Trio enchanted the crowd. Hailing from London and Cologne respectively, this pairing gave a truly European flavour to the evening and provided Brighton-based, jazz enthusiasts, with an all too rare opportunity to hear developments happening amongst the younger end of the European jazz scene.

    Since winning the BBC Rising Star Award in 2008, Kit Downes has become involved with a range of interesting projects such as prog-jazz group Troyka, The Golden Age of Steam, Kit Downes Quintet and duo work with Tom Challenger, to name but a few. The Verdict welcomed his trio, with Calum Gourlay on bass and James Maddren on drums. Ranging from tender and contemplative to explosive and exuberant, the set comprised a number of Downes’ own compositions and a couple of cheeky Ornette Coleman tunes. Downes’ reflective and sensitive playing, which draws on classical influences as well as jazz, is balanced wonderfully by Gourlay’s responsive and creative approach. The playful composition, Frizzi Pazzi, allowed Maddren to apply some fiery sparkle to events, whilst Wander and Colossus, the opening track of the  most recent album, Light from Old Stars, took us on a mesmerising journey that shimmered and hypnotised with piano ostinati and propelling brush strokes. 

    Equally lauded, having won the WDR Jazz Award in 2011, the Pablo Held trio are making waves on the European jazz scene. Having studied with John Taylor at the Conservatory in Cologne, Held has already notched up an impressive list of collaborations, including Dave Liebman, Tom Harrell and the German guitarist Wolfgang Muthspiel. His approach is as wide ranging in its influences as Downes’, combining a classical sensibility with an extensive jazz knowledge. It is not surprising there is a huge mutual respect between the two: read Kit writing about Pablo here.

    Before opening the set, Held shared the trio’s approach with the audience, explaining that the music would be entirely improvised, with little or no pre-conceived idea of what to play or how. The players are able draw on a repertoire of forty or so tunes that can start at any point and be turned upside-down and inside out. These tunes may feature in the improvisations or not, depending on where the music takes them. And so, our musical adventure began, and what an adventure it was. 

    This trio are not of the exclusive variety, only allowing their audience to observe as they revel in their inter-play. No, they very much take you with them. How they achieve this openness and inclusivity, I’m not quite sure, but, at the risk of going over-board, seeing them play is a very profound experience. Rejecting the traditional approach to the piano trio in which the pianist leads, Held, Landfermann (bass) and Burgwinkel (drums) intuitively follow and lead one another. It is truly a shared experience both for them and those that come to see them play. Beautiful, expressive and pure, this music is able to transport and provoke. Their next UK date is April 6th in Gateshead. Spread the word.


Katy O’Neill


Kit Downes, piano; Calum Gourlay, bass; James Maddren, drums.

Pablo Held, piano; Robert Landfermann, bass; Jonas Burgwinkel, drums.



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