Easy Tiger: Piano poet Kit Downes on his new album

Apperances can certainly be deceiving. His slender frame, sheepish demeanour and scruffy student garb do much to disguise Kit Downes. But put the 24-year-old prodigy behind the keys and he plays with more poetry than just about any other pianist of his generation.
Leading his self-titled trio, Downes broke into the mainstream last year when his debut album, Golden, was named as the “token jazz” nomination in the most coveted of music awards, the Mercury Prize.
“Really, the victory is in the nomination process and the fact that we all have good fun listening to each other,” reflects Downes today, after losing out to the xx.
The pianist made his name young as a member of Empirical, hailed as the saviours of British jazz in 2007 when their Courtney Pine-produced debut was named Jazzwise album of the year.
Kit later played with Troyka, Fraud and Acoustic Ladyland, before moving into the limelight with own trio, first formed back in 2005 with two mates at the Royal Academy of Music, bassist Calum Gourlay and drummer James Maddren.
“With a piano bass and drums, we have a traditional jazz line-up and I guess that what we play is jazz in the sense that we improvise,” Kit explains.
“But we do have a lot of influences, including classical music, and what we do is quite eclectic.”
After six years the group play with a subtle musical telepathy, dancing between lilting harmonic and rhythmic changes without a thought or nod. There’s no better example of this than Kit’s new album, Quiet Tiger, released last month, which expands the trio’s sound with cello and saxophone, while effortlessly blending echoes of everything from Björk to Bartok.
“I only want to make short goals for myself at the moment,” Kit adds, looking forward. “I want to make the most of any opportunities that come my way, making sure the album and everything that goes with it goes well.”