A meeting with a Nasa astrobiologist led to these intricate but surprisingly bluesy musings on the conundrum of stargazing at what isn't there any more, hence the title. But old stars of the jazz kind illuminate the album: while this is a boldly contemporary quintet set from 2010 Mercury contender Downes, jazz-piano legends such as Paul Bley and Jan Johansson get salutes, while the 1970s Keith Jarrett quartets glimmer distantly and Downes's affection for traditional blues is plain. These forces are initially disguised in the faraway long tones and harp-like trickles of the opener, before a seductive hook and muscular keyboard improv push through it. But the following Bleydays is state-of-the-art postbop, with its brilliant, Bley-quoting piano break, James Allsopp's borderline-free tenor sax and James Maddren's brisk cymbal beat. Outlawed is stealthily bluesy; Two Ones turns mournfully pitch-bent cello and bass bowings into a dark, Jarrett-like vamp; Owls bookends abstract free-jazz with an eccentrically pumping melody; and the closing Jan Johansson beautifully combines eerily harmonised Nordic ambiance and the album's infinite-space theme.
Kit Downes: Light from Old Stars – review
John Fordham is the Guardian's main jazz critic. He has written several books on the subject, reported on it for publications including Time Out, Sounds, Wire and Word, and contributed to documentaries for radio and TV. He is a former editor of Time Out, City Limits and Jazz UK, and regularly contributes to BBC Radio 3's Jazz on 3