As BBC Jazz Award-winning pianist Kit Downes brings his highly anticipated and critically acclaimed album Dreamlife of Debris to Ireland this October, for a Music Network tour, RTÉ lyric fm's Ellen Cranitch talks to Downes about a record (and a sound) that defies categorization.

Back in the old days, it was required of organists of the baroque and renaissance eras to have considerable expertise in the art of improvisation. Emergency filler might be needed, (an unpunctual bride, a parson’s coughing fit), and the ability to take a theme, explore it and bring it home all before the final blessing was regarded as a measure of a musician’s expertise.

It would be fair to say that Kit Downes is more than an expert at taking a small idea and teasing out its possibilities, bringing us on the scenic route with him and leaving us with a sense of satisfaction, having been somewhere, seen new sights, and eaten new ice cream.

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His project, Dreamlife of Debris, is such a journey. In its original iteration as a recording project for ECM records, it takes the organ as a central bank of sonic inspiration, and through engagement with the timbres and colours of the other instruments (drums, saxophone, cello), creates a landscape of texture and dimension. The use of layering and overdubs throw into relief these rich spatial relationships and lend an expansive but delicately detailed cast to the eight tracks, all but one composed by Kit. "It was a studio record, and at no time were all of us in the studio together," he says. "I wanted to find a way to blend organ with the other instruments in a broader orchestral way, but I didn’t want it to sound live and roomy, I wanted a hi-fi sound, in order to hear the detail of the pipes. We recorded the organs in two churches, St. John The Baptist in Snape, and St. Paul’s university in Huddersfield. The instruments are very different in terms of size and timbre, and we sought to use the different room sound to create something dislocated and abstract."

"It's definitely not jazz with a capital J!"

"In terms of material, the massive sonic potential of the instruments and their various combinations led to the use of small compound themes, rather than big dramatic musical gestures, and it is in the teasing out of these motifs that the true collaborative nature of the music becomes apparent. Allowing for plenty of improvisation and dialogue, each session informed the direction and content of the subsequent one and consolidated the 'bandness' of the contributing musicians. Our identification of the organ as an historical instrument, limited to particular contexts, is also challenged. "I wanted to make a record that didn’t sound particularly fixed to a period, but somehow felt old, but you couldn’t say how old. I had this image when we were going to record of everything being underwater, seen through a half light, a constantly shifting lens. I’m really talking aesthetics, a wraith, a flow."

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Listen to Dreamlife Of Debris by Kit Downes, via Spotify

This aesthetic is greatly inspired by a book which as a young man growing up in Norwich, Kit greatly admired and loved. The Rings of Saturn by W.G. Sebald is a first-person narrative of a walking tour of Suffolk, and it is both personal and universal, the various stages of the journey sparking thoughts and contemplations on many diverse topics - historical, cultural and scientific. Great stretches of imagination, and enormous leaps between seemingly disconnected subjects resonated with Kit in the development of Dreamlife, and his quest to find specific faraway meeting points with his choices of instrumentation, and not just "playing the organ at the same time as the guitar. I love the idea of interconnectedness of disparate objects."

The title Dreamlife Of Debris is a quote attributed to Vladimir Nabokov in a documentary about Sebald, and his ability to project emotion and character onto inanimate objects, and to find abstract meaning in landscapes and events which he encounters, imbuing them with a dreamlike actuality, that apparent contradiction being a trigger for the unfettered and adventurous way of perceiving the world.

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And surely Music Network’s touring van is a touch on the small side for accommodating a church organ. How will this music sound rearranged for piano? "Because the parts on the record are largely overdubs, they wouldn’t be that exciting to play every night, and I wanted to give Tom and Lucy something to sink their teeth into. Less sparse, less abstract, more descriptive, and when you take away the sound possibilities the organ has, you have to make up for it in terms of compositional detail. It was a question of rebalancing things in order to address the different challenges that were fun to solve. It’s definitely not jazz with a capital J!"

Kit Downes (second from left) with his Dreamland of Debris quartet

Listen to this music once and we experience shore-based entry-level engagement with it. After repeated listenings, it takes us further out to sea, to the deeps more intense, the stars more luminous, the silences more contemplative. And then home again, to our freshly nourished dreamlives.

Dreamlife of Debris will tour from 19 — 26 October, performing in Letterkenny, Newbridge, Dublin, Tinahely, Portlaoise, Cork, and Dún Laoghaire - find out more here.