CBSO Centre, Birmingham UK
Review and photographs by John Watson
When you see the names Kit Downes, Petter Eldh and James Maddren in the publicity for a new trio, you just know this will be a band that cannot fail. In fact, it could turn out to be rather special.
And the trio, Enemy, turned out to be very special indeed – a tidal wave of musical energy, powered by great musical imaginations. And, as a bonus, the group had a special guest with them in the second half of the Birmingham concert, guitarist Chris Montague.
Pianist Downes has led several inspired bands of his own, besides working with bands including Empirical and Troyka, and with artists including Stan Sulzmann, Clark Tracey, Seb Rochford and Gilad Atzmon. Bassist Eldh – born in Sweden but living these days in Germany – frequently works with Norwegian saxophonist Marius Neset, and has also performed in the UK with Django Bates and Alexander Hawkins. Drummer Maddren is much in demand, playing with a huge number of artists including Seamus Blake, Marc Copland, Gwilym Simcock, Michael Janisch and Martin Speake.
The wide-ranging experience of these three players enables them to perform together with tremendous rapport, making Enemy a group which engages the listener instantly – however complex the musical constructions are – and to create a constantly-enthralling musical journey.
Most of the compositions in the concert at the CBSO Centre, presented by Jazzlines, were by Downes, including the quirky, twisting theme Jinn, named after a character in a computer game, Children With Torches, which opened with a loping, engagingly offset beat, and Race The Sun, also named in honour of a computer game. (If young jazz musicians working internationally are addicted to computer games, I blame the sheer tedium of all the air travel they have to endure. However, when flying, would a good book be more… uplifting?)
Eldh’s tune Brandy Norwood, named after the R&B star, reflected – the bassist said – elements of Norwood’s style, but was so wonderfully intense and harmonically adventurous that I would never have guessed at its inspiration.
Guest guitarist Montague (described by composer Colin Towns, with whom he has played, as “an amazing player”) works with Downes in Troyka, and added an exceptionally strong voice to the Enemy ensemble, creating a flurry of arpeggios to introduce his own piece Chandler’s Delight, which then merged seamlessly into Downe’s tune Politics.
Enemy is giving a late show at Ronnie Scott’s in London on 19 October, and then continues its current tour with dates in Germany and Switzerland, before a gig at the Vortex in London on 16 November.
Their first album is in preparation – but catch Enemy live when you can.
Footnote: My delight over this concert was further enhanced when the Highways Agency inexplicably failed to close the A38M (Aston Expressway) for the evening, thus reducing my usual post-concert return journey time by about one and a half hours. I have long been convinced that the frequent closure of this short but vital stretch of road (the closures must hold a world record) is designed to discourage out-of-towners from supporting Birmingham concert halls, theatres, restaurants and clubs. However, with the A38M open on Saturday, the music was still ringing joyfully in my ears when I arrived home, tranquil and fulfilled.
Categories: Live review