The three-day jazz feast in Cracow came to an end on Saturday evening with an absolutely unique concert. The performers were Ziółek Kwartet from Poland, winners of Jazz Juniors 2020. After their energetic sets the time finally came for a genuine magus, master of atmosphere, improvisation, and melody: Kit Downes, a key figure in the UK jazz scene! It was indeed a finale in a great style.

Ziółek Kwartet consists of Grzegorz Ziółek (piano), Marcin Elszkowski (trumpet), Piotr Narajowski (bass), and Bartosz Szablowski (drums). Two years ago they won our Competition; this year they have appeared at the festival already as well-established artists. Their recent debut CD Untold was co-financed from the ‘Jazz Debut Album’ programme of the National Institute of Music and Dance. Though all the members are students or fresh graduates of Academies of Music in Katowice and Cracow as well as Berklee College of Music, each of them already has numerous individual and collective successes to his name and has appeared at the most prestigious jazz festivals in Poland and abroad.

In Cracow they presented a programme made up of such highly energetic sets, full of musical twists and turns, that the delighted audience made them play an encore.

The star of the second part of our final night, Kit Downes, is a major and symptomatic figure in the contemporary British jazz scene. Winner of the prestigious BBC Jazz Award, also nominated for the Mercury Music Award, he is one of the artists signed up by the prestigious ECM label. His virtuosic improvisations on the piano, organ, and harmonium carry echoes of various musical influences, perfectly reflected in his vast and varied discography, which includes Wedding Music (2013) recorded in a church with sax player Tom Challenger and Downes himself playing the Hammond organ, as well as Obsidian (2018, his first solo album for ECM), where he plays the church organ.

2022 brought Downes’ new album Vermillion, featuring a classical jazz trio in which the pianist plays with his long-time collaborators: bassist Petter Eldh and drummer James Maddren. Another album was released this year by Deadeye, a band consisting of Reinier Baas, Jonas Burgwinkel, and Kit Downes. The well-tested blend of the Hammond organ, guitar, and percussion brings music replete in diverse influences from Ennio Morricone’s film scores to Richard Strauss to Wes Montgomery.

For his concert at the 46th Jazz Juniors Festival, Kit Downes prepared a series of solo improvisations dominated by a dense and subtle tissue of individual piano sounds, chords, and passages, in which Scottish, Hungarian, and Norwegian tunes came to the fore from time to time. Each improvisation nevertheless made up a separate composition, full of subtle turns of action, harmonic and rhythmic shifts, boasting a brilliant form and wonderful melodies.

The concert was an in-depth study of Kit Downes’ musical imagination, with which this conjurer of piano moods carried us into an altogether different world.

This beautiful culmination and finale of Cracow’s three-day jazz music festival will stay in our memory for a long time.