Monday, July 31, 2017

Bob Downes - 1970 - Open Music

Bob Downes 
Open Music

01. Dream Journey
02. Birth Of A Forest
03. Integration
04. Contract
05. Ghosts In Space
06. Desert Haze
07. Electric City

Alto Saxophone, Flute [Alto, Bamboo], Saxophone [Mouthpieces], Tam-tam [Small] – Bob Downes
Bass – Harry Miller (tracks: B1 to B6)
Concert Flute, Tenor Saxophone, Bells [Chinese]– Bob Downes
Drums – Dennis Smith, John Stevens
Guitar – Chris Spedding (tracks: B1 to B6)

On Track 1:
Baritone Saxophone – John Warren
Flute – Jim Gregory
Performer [Acetate Paper] – Bob Downes
Tam-tam – Dennis Smith
Tenor Saxophone – Clive Stevens
Timpani, Vibraphone, Tam-tam [Large], Finger Cymbals – Derek Hogg
Trombone – Chris Pine
Trumpet – Butch Hudson, Henry Lowther, Nigel Carter

Bob Downes was a well-known "studio rat" or a "session man" that played on many 60's records, from MANFRED MANN to ANDWELLA'S DREAM (and later on EGG); and his fantastic flute was second to JETHRO TULL's Ian Anderson only. By the turn of the decade, he had decided to try his own luck and 1970 was a particularly fruitful year for him: 2 full solo album and one collaboration. Released on the legendary Vertigo swirl label, Electric City was a strange album between avant-garde jazz and hard rock. The album failed to sell and by the time Bob Downes was ready to record his second album, Phillips had demoted him to their "normal" label (only GRACIOUS suffered the same treatment). Actually "Open Music" came out as his more successful release and has been a collector item for years, now. 

The same year, Bob Downes also released a wild album called "Deep Down Heavy" (and its spectacular artwork) with poet Robert Cockburn reading out his text, making another unusual record. 

None of the three albums sold enough for Downes to keep trying out his solo stint. Comes then a gap where I guess he returned to studio sessions for the next couple of years, most likely appearing on avant-garde jazz albums. This in turn led him to be noticed by some Modern Artistic Dance companies and in 72, he was commissioned for two "dance" project. Forming his own trio OPEN MUSIC, named after his more successful album, "Diversion" proved an interesting release where jazz-rock alternated with free form music, while the catastrophic "Episodes At 4AM" (74), which was a Welsh project, filled with obtuse free-form music. The following year saw Downes release "Hell's Angels", then later "Dawn Dreams", "South American Journey" and "Inside Stonehenge", before taking a long break. 

Bob Downes moved to the continent in the late 80's and is now currently based in Germany, and continues to perform as a solo artiste, playing during the execution of paintings and art exhibitions running flute workshops and releasing the odd album now and then, such as 93's "Dreams of Nature".

Open Music was Bob Downes' debut album, recorded for the Philips label in 1969 and his impact on the UK scene was such that he was voted top place in the flute category of the Melody Maker jazz poll's British musician section for three consecutive years from 1972. It has until now never been reissued on CD and rare vinyl copies have attracted high sums in second-hand markets. Although Downes is best known for his flute playing, he is a genuine multi-instrumentalist, playing no fewer than seven instruments on this album, including the less conventional, acetate paper. 

The recording's centerpiece is "Dream Journey." The piece— which received its premiere by Ballet Rambert on November 27, 1969 in London—runs just over twenty minutes. Divided into two parts, the first eleven minutes of the track are devoted to flute and percussion, with special emphasis on the sporadic, dramatic interspersions of timpani. The whole piece is very cinematic and reflects music of a more classical nature, but the second half is considerably more jazz informed. The ensemble sax sections are dynamically engaging, underpinned by acoustic bass and drums building to repeated crescendos with Downes providing an exciting flute solo. 

The next five tracks are either solo flute, flute and drums, or flute, drums, and bass. These largely improvised tracks are predominantly quiet, ruminative pieces dominated by Downes' intricate flute. However, "Ghosts in Space" is more structured with a strangely hypnotic head defined by flute, arco bass, and drums, while the middle collective improvisation section is enlivened by Downes screaming in the noisier parts. The final track, "Electric City" which was to give its name to a succeeding album, recorded by Downes for Vertigo (1970), is effectively a jazz-rock piece. Again, Downes inserts some scat singing—or more accurately, shouting—all against a backdrop of ostinato bass guitar, Chris Spedding's unmistakable guitar work, and wild multi-tracked saxophones, all conjuring up an exciting mêlée of sound. This album surely explains Downes high-ranking in the Melody Maker polls. Open Music is an unusual and innovative collection of flute mastery.

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