by Ian Mann
November 09, 2012
An inventive blend of jazz and modern classical influences, the album sees Clowes building on her immense promise.
“and in the night-time she is there”
(Basho Records SRCD 41-2)
Shrewsbury born saxophonist and composer Trish Clowes made a big impression with her 2010 début album “Tangent” (also Basho Records), an inventive blend of jazz and modern classical influences.
The success of “Tangent” raised Clowes’ profile considerably, culminating in her being awarded the position of BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artist for 2012-14, a prestigious appointment previously awarded to pianist Gwilym Simcock and reedman Shabaka Hutchings. She has performed regularly with her Tangent quartet (occasionally augmented by strings and piano to recreate the ensemble sound heard on her albums) and curated her own cross genre Emulsion Festival at London’s Vortex Jazz Club. I recently saw her perform as part of guitarist Dan Messore’s Indigo Kid group at Brecon Jazz Festival and was highly impressed by her contribution to what was an excellent gig (see review elsewhere on this site).
“and in the night-time” is a more coherent album than its predecessor and sees Clowes building on her immense promise. She deploys a core jazz quartet featuring Troyka guitarist Chris Montague and the regular rhythm team of double bassist Calum Gourlay and drummer James Maddren (both of the Kit Downes Trio). They are augmented on four tracks by guest pianist Gwilym Simcock and an improvising string quartet led by violinist Thomas Gould and also featuring Thea Spiers (violin), Adam Robinson (viola) and Louise McMonagle (cello). Elsewhere another cellist, Heidi Parsons (who also appeared on “Tangent”) adds her distinctive tones to three pieces and Kathleen Willison contributes vocals to a setting of Oscar Wilde’s poem “The Sphinx”, a line from which gives the album its title.
Opener “Atlas” drifts around Maddren’s brushed, subtly hop hop inflected drum grooves. Clowes’ tenor (she plays the instrument inclusively throughout) combines with Montague’s guitar and Parsons’ cello to create rich colours and textures. Clowes’ fluency and warmth of tone have evoked comparisons with Stan Getz (particularly his work on the 1961 orchestral album “Focus”) and there’s something of his style here. Montague also impresses with his solo, his playing less abrasive than with his own band Troyka, before bassist Calum Gourlay demonstrates his round, flexible tone with an extended solo.
“Green Circle” features the core jazz quartet, the foursome interacting well, handling Clowes’ tricky theme and rhythmic shifts with aplomb. Clowes solos eloquently above Maddren’s quietly busy grooves followed by Montague and Gourlay. The three way discussion that occurs between guitar, bass and drums is particularly engrossing with Maddren sometimes taking the lead.
Parsons returns to the fold for the angular “On/Off”, her staccato phrases adding an agreeable degree of edginess to the piece. Clowes and Montague solo lengthily as Maddren adds an intriguing variety of drum sounds.
The lovely “Seven” features delightfully delicate and colourful interplay between Clowes and Montague with Gourlay also weighing in with another notable contribution. The bassist gets a good deal of space on this record and rightly so.
“Animator” expands the ensemble to a nonet with the addition of Simcock at the piano and the string quartet led by violin virtuoso Gould. Clowes is keen to stress the improvising credentials of the string players and there’s definitely a more integrated feel here than on the orchestral arrangements of the previous album. The interlocking colours and textures of “Animator” are particularly engrossing with Gould and Simcock making particularly strong contributions. Montague’s soaring guitar in the tune’s closing stages threatens to transport the tune somewhere else.
Guests Parsons and Willison join the core quartet on Clowes’ graceful setting of Oscar Wilde’s “The Sphinx”, an anthropomorphic ode to a domestic cat. Willison sings beguilingly, Clowes’ rich tenor and Montague’s guitar are suitably seductive and Maddren’s colourful drum patterns fascinate throughout.
The centrepiece of the album is the three part “Iris Nonet” dedicated to Clowes’ late grandmother Iris Clowes.This features the same ensemble as “Animator” with the string quartet’s commitment to improvisation exemplified by the sometimes rather spiky first movement. Unconventional plucking and bowing marks the intro before Clowes introduces the melody. Strings, reeds, piano and guitar exchange phrases over Maddren’s slow groove before the smooth surface of Clowe’s tenor solo is ruffled by the abrasive murmurings of the strings. Simcock’s solo exhibits the flowing inventiveness we have come to expect from him. Violinist Gould is also a significant voice as he exchanges ideas with Montague. It’s a very convincing synthesis of the two traditions in a highly contemporary context.
The second movement takes the ensemble even further into improvisatory territory, much more freely structured with the strings again mixing pizzicato and bowing techniques. Clowes and Simcock provide the melodic content, combining beautifully as mellifluous passages alternate with freer episodes incorporating mallet rumbles, scratchy guitar and interior piano scrapings. String sounds vary from impossibly lush to harsh and spiky. It’s a fascinating kaleidoscope of sounds, constantly shifting in mood and colour with a lovely melodic coda featuring saxophone and bass.
The third movement is more obviously melodic adding a folk element and developing melodies alluded to in the previous movements. There’s still an edge to the opening exchanges featuring Montague’s distinctive guitar sound but Clowes’ own playing is warm and mellifluous with the strings playing a more traditional supporting role than previously.
Overall “The Iris Nonet” is a fascinating exploration of the interface linking the jazz and classical traditions. Clowes’ imaginative and colourful arrangements allow the strings to undertake a fully integrated role in the improvising process. They are at the heart of the music rather than merely being deployed in the more usual subservient roles of providing colour and texture. The suite is a wholly convincing amalgam and Clowes is to be congratulated on her ambition and vision.
Following the cross genre success of the Nonet pieces Clowes chooses to close the album with a generous nod to the jazz tradition. The charming duet “Little Tune” is a homage to the jazz standards of the past, a lovely, airy ballad played with genuine warmth by Clowes on breathy tenor sax with sensitive support from Montague on cool jazz guitar. His gentle chording is very different to his work with Troyka and reveals just what a versatile guitarist he is. Clowes meanwhile evokes the ghosts of Getz, Ben Webster, Lester Young and Dexter Gordon.
“and in the night-time” has received almost unanimous critical acclaim and delivers on the promise suggested by “Tangent”. Coinciding with Clowes’ appointment as Radio 3’s Young Generations Artist the album is clearly an important work for her and the next few years should see Clowes’ star continue to rise. The blending of jazz and classical structures is comparatively widespread just now but this album is a more convincing example than most.
Trish Clowes plays at London Jazz Festival 2012 as detailed below;
Thursday 15th November
TRISH CLOWES PLAYS BARBARA THOMPSON
+ MARTIN FONDSE AND ERIC VLOEIMANS play TESTIMONI
Venue: St James’s Piccadilly
Time (onstage): 7.30 p.m.
Ticket price: £20/£15
Saxophonist Trish Clowes and Tangent String Quartet led by Thomas Gould play Kurt Weill as conceived by Barbara Thompson. Arrangements by Richard Rodney Bennett, John Dankworth, Mike Westbrook, Mike Gibbs and Thompson herself.
The quartet also join Holland’s most cherished composer and pianist and vibrandoneon player Martin Fondse and trumpeter Eric Vloeimans with their gorgeous project Testimoni.
Further information at;
She also plays the following night (November 13th) at The Amersham Arms, London SE14 as part of the Festival. Details below;
THE AMERSHAM ARMS
Tuesday 13 November|8:30
388 New Cross Road
020 8469 1499
+ Booking fee
New music from the SE Collective. MAP combine elements of New York’s Downtown scene with improv influences from this side of the pond.
Redshift are a saxophone/bass/ drums trio, featuring Trish Clowes and performing playful and melodic compositions by all three members.
Organist Bill Mudge’s Quartet tips its hat to two of the great hammond players, Larry Young and Dr Lonnie Smith.
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