Bob Downes

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Bob Downes (born 22 July 1937 in Plymouth) is an English avant-garde jazz flautist and saxophonist. He is probably best known for his work with musicians such as Mike Westbrook, and for leading his own group since 1968, the Open Music Trio who released a series of LPs on Downes' own Openian record label.

On Diversions Downes played concert, alto & Chinese bamboo flutes, and tenor sax. Five of the eight pieces are trios with double bass (Barry Guy and Jeff Clyne) and drums (Denis Smith). The other three pieces are solos: on "Samurai" Downes played concert and alto flutes into a piano with the sustain pedal pressed down to give a tuned resonance, and on "The Dream" a slow disjunct melody reminiscent of the interwar Viennese school on concert flute over an eerie white noise rich VCS3 synthesiser soundscape played by Laurie Baker. The trios have the texture of (then) modern jazz, but the improvisation is melodic rather than harmonic and both the flute and (particularly Barry Guy's) double bass veer off into European Classical avant garde territory. In 2007 Diversions was re-released by Vocalion.

Hells Angels, on its original LP release, had a long big-band piece on side one (the title track), with a set of trio pieces on side 2. Downes plays mainly sax on this record (tenor and alto). The most striking piece on the record is the last track, "Blue Sheets": he plays alto over a four-note double bass loop and cymbal pulse in a spacious field of reverb and, building patterns from only a handful of notes, produces a beautiful and hauntingly atmospheric motific miniature.

After moving to Germany in the late 1970s, Downes released several further records, including Solos (c. 1984), an LP of solo flute improvisations (concert, alto and bass) set in a spacious natural reverb - picking up on the basic idea of "Blue Sheets" and "The Dream". The second side of the LP had a series of metrical riff pieces for bass flute where Downes used overblowing and articulation to change the harmonic content and timbre of the loops - an approach similar in effect to the use of dynamic filter changes in more recent sequenced electronic music.



  1. ^ Carr, Ian; Digby Fairweather; Brian Priestley (1995). Jazz: The Rough Guide. The Rough Guides. p. 179. ISBN 1-85828-137-7. 

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