On this solo recording (with the exception of a single track) Downes utilizes organs at three UK locations; London's Union Chapel, St. John's in Snape and St. Edmund's Church in Bromeswell. As explained in the liner notes, Downes long fascination with the organ extended to his transformational wish to play on these different instruments and find a way to have them communicate with each other. Certainly, each has individual characteristics and a unique voice that may be apparent when listening in the context that Downes has laid out. […] Downes' creative approach on Obsidian ranges from singular spontaneous improvisations to multiple reassembled improvisations, to building on—and around—concepts. A key inspiration is French composer and organist Olivier Messiaen who Downes explains ...’blends the sounds of the instrument to give real form and colour to the performance. You can be both an improviser and an orchestrator in the moment.’ Messiaen, in fact, rejected much of the analytical terminology of music suggesting that there is only music with, or without, color. Downes has taken that to heart on this beautiful collection and he has plans to expand on his use of the organ in a future project. ‘Obsidian‘ is highly recommended.
Karl Ackermann, All About Jazz
Downes sucht weniger die Klangfülle der Orgel, als ihr Flüstern. Das Nachhorchen scheint dabei genauso wichtig wie die aktive Tongestaltung. So entstehen Klanglandschaften, die sich stilistisch zwischen Jazzidiom und Neuer Musik bewegen, Downes selbst erwähnt in diesem Zusammenhang die Improvisationen von Olivier Messiaen. Ihm gelingt es, jenseits bekannter Kirchenklänge ein Gefühl für Raum und Zwischenraum, für Freiheit und Gebet zu vermitteln.
Jan Tengeler, Deutschlandfunk Kultur
There’s a haunting, ethereal quality that pervades throughout. And though Downes has cited the twentieth-century French composer, improviser, and organist Olivier Messiaen as an influence — makes sense, since he does all of the above — at times there are echoes of the minimalist Terry Riley, especially in ‘Modern Gods,’ the only piece on which he uses an accompanist, the tenor saxophonist Tom Challenger, who collaborates frequently with Downes. It recalls moments of the saxophone-organ duo in Riley’s 1972 ‘Happy Ending.’ Is ‘Obsidian’ a jazz album? It’s not Wild Bill Davis, Jimmy Smith, or Lonnie Smith, but if it’s not soul-jazz, it does have soul. He was first turned on to the piano, according to the liner notes, by listening to Oscar Peterson, and is now fully entrenched in the British jazz scene; he dedicates the album to John Taylor, the English jazz pianist who died in 2015. Anyway, call it what you want. I’ll call it quietly riveting. In a world going to hell, Kit Downes is playing for the angels — what’s left of them.
Michael J. Agovino, Village Voice
‘Obsidian’ is a fascinating exploration of an instrument little used in jazz. Most of us have had significant engagement with the church organ throughout our lives yet will not have heard it outside of its traditional setting in the church. To hear Downes investigate its orchestral and improvisational possibilities is like finding out a secret about a friend you’ve known all your life. A secret which you never knew but always suspected was a possibility.
John Marley, Jazz Views
Die zehn Miniaturen des mit Kirchenmusik sozialisierten Tastenvirtuosen gleichen einem eruptiven Kreativprozess, bei dem sich die erkaltete musikalische Magma langsam in dunkles, vulkanisches Glas (‚Obsidian‘) verwandelt. Ein markantes, völlig eigenständiges Werk, nicht zu vergleichen mit Keith Jarretts Ausflug an die Kirchenorgel 1976 bei ‚Hymns/Spheres‘.
Reinhard Köchl, Jazzthing
Kit Downes’ beautifully crafted thematic improvisations for church organ mingle serene moods and stately counterpoints with the jump and scatter of improv and an underlying sense of unease. […] Later Downes is joined by Tom Challenger on tenor saxophone, rekindling their previous recordings. Challenger plays ‘Modern Gods’ in unison at first, sounding much like an extra organ pipe. As the piece builds, the two instruments become distinct until they peak with dense chords and sustained single-note sax. […] The CD ends with ‘The Gift’, a mix of hymn and lament co-composed by Downes and his father Paul and played on the single-manual church organ at St Edmunds in Bromeswell. The melody is simple, warm and plangent, and Downes’ development keeps the balance intact. It is a gem.
Mike Hobart, Financial Times
Als feinfühlig Improvisierender setzte er sich an ein-bis dreimanualige Instrumente in Suffolk und London, spielte eigene Stücke, eins seines Vaters und ein Traditional, wird einmal von Saxofonist Tom Challenger begleitet und verortet alles jenseits gängiger Kategorien. […] Es kann folkloristisch klingen, dann wieder klangmalerisch, introspektiv und geheimnisvoll, wenn hier auf verblüffende Weise die Orchestrierungsmöglichkeiten der Orgel ausgetastet werden.
Ulrich Steinmetzger, Leipziger Volkszeitung
Die Frische von Downes’ zehn Stücken rührt daher, dass sie mindestens zum teil improvisiert sind und in ihrer formalen Offenheit durchaus jazznah wirken. Diese Offenheit passt zur Kirchenorgel: Bis heute ist nirgendwo in der Klassik Improvisatorisches so gebräuchlich wie bei der Orgel […] Borduntöne, die lange liegen bleiben, Klänge als Kontinuum waren seit je eine Spezialität der Orgel. Auch wenn man früher nicht von Space, sondern von Sakralität sprach, nicht von sphärischen Klängen, sondern von Himmelsmusik. Und so schafft es Kit Downes auf seinem Album, so sehr von heute zu klingen und dabei auch überraschend aktuelle Traditionen freizulegen.
Christoph Merki, Tagesanzeiger
Many of the tracks feature the organs miked close up, so the listener gets a sense of the mechanical noises coming from the instruments. I love the variety of music on the album and Downes’ fresh, improvisational approach to the music. He’s an experimenter, changing the stop positions and footwork, and exploring the myriad sounds of the organs. Just like with Keith Jarrett’s 1976 album ‘Hymns/Spheres’ years ago, I have been listening over and over to Obsidian and still discover new gems each time.
Tom Schnabel, KCRW Rhythm Planet
The compositions are for three separate church organs: one large (the three-manual instrument at London’s Union Chapel), one medium-sized and one small (organs with, respectively, two manuals and a single manual in a couple of East Suffolk churches). The sounds they produce, of course, are rather different, due partly to the instruments themselves, partly to the acoustic properties of the buildings they inhabit. Downes, who was a chorister and church organist in Norwich before becoming a professional jazz musician, plays both to and with these differences in a selection of compositions which is pleasingly varied yet admirably coherent. The opening ‘Kings’, for example, played on the Union Chapel organ, has a brooding majesty, its steady procession of low pulse-notes overlaid with higher scales suggestive of fanfares, whereas the closing ‘The Gift’, for the single-manual instrument, has a tender, quiet simplicity evocative almost of a folk song. (In fact, the melody is from a hymn written by Downes’ father.)
Geoff Andrew, Notes & Observations
Made in three churches, each with its own acoustics and, of course, organ, the record is beautifully recorded, full of depth and nuance, and it sounds particularly good through headphones. On the last track, the gentle tune ‘The Gift’ (based on a composition by Downes' father) it is possible to hear birds singing in the background, adding to the bucolic feeling. […] It is a powerful record: these instruments create a big sound. Although the locations may be ecclesiastic, the music is secular. Downes produces some surprising sounds from the organs, such as other-worldly bleeps and whistles on ‘Rings Of Saturn’ or cetacean moans on ‘Last Leviathan’. At time he makes the organ roar; at other, it is as if it is simmering, waiting to be let loose.
Patrick Hadfield, London Jazz News