Mercury prize nominated pianist's third album as leader captures the magical and fantastic through earthy ideas. Having met astrobiologist Daniella Scalice at the Cheltenham Science Festival, Mercury nominated pianist Kit Downes became intrigued by the notion that the stars we see are often dead, and that stargazing is 'a form of time travel without moving'. The celestial scale might seem incomprehensible to us, but there are some routes towards understanding it. Already inspired by ideas of scale, these thoughts provided a strong conceptual framework for Downes and for the music on Light From Old Stars. The pieces explore the realms of the magical and fantastic through very grounded and earthy ideas. These are all complete, live takes without the use of editing. Light From Old Stars is Downes' first album to be recorded entirely with the quintet line-up, developing the approach to arrangements initiated on Quiet Tiger. The compositions are very specific orders and designs that also have chaos built in to them. They also link Downes' disparate musical interests from the early American blues masters through to European classical music via specific references to pianists Paul Bley and Jan Johansson. The raw, urgent quality of blues from guitarists such as Skip James, Blind Willie McTell and Howlin' Wolf is a fundamental inspiration here, not only on the dusty shuffle of Outlawed but also in the more veiled blues ideas that can be found throughout the album. The compositions on Light From Old Stars are united through inspirations that are escapist, but which also reflect reality. What's The Rumpus gets its title from dialogue in the Coen Brothers film Miller's Crossing, whilst Owls is inspired by David Lynch's bizarre and surreal drama Twin Peaks. The idea for the brief interlude Falling Dancing came after watching a ballet performance. To emphasise these links with other art forms, Downes has also been collaborating with visual artist Lesley Barnes. A meeting with a Nasa astrobiologist led to these intricate but surprisingly bluesy musings on the conundrum of stargazing at what isn't there anymore, hence the title. But old stars of the jazz kind illuminate the album: while this is a boldly contemporary quintet set from 2010 Mercury contender Downes, jazz-piano legends such as Paul Bley and Jan Johansson get salutes, while the 1970s Keith Jarrett quartets glimmer distantly and Downes's affection for traditional blues is plain. These forces are initially disguised in the faraway long tones and harp-like trickles of the opener, before a seductive hook and muscular keyboard improv push through it. But the following Bleydays is state-of-the-art postbop, with its brilliant, Bley-quoting piano break, James Allsopp's borderline-free tenor sax and James Maddren's brisk cymbal beat. Outlawed is stealthily bluesy; Two Ones turns mournfully pitch-bent cello and bass bowings into a dark, Jarrett-like vamp; Owls bookends abstract free-jazz with an eccentrically pumping melody; and the closing Jan Johansson beautifully combines eerily harmonised Nordic ambiance and the album's infinite-space theme. John Fordham Guardian (4*).