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Clarvis, Noble & Jordan

Freight Train

by Ian Mann

February 01, 2023


Bringing together a range of musical traditions “Freight Train” is a real meeting of minds and in general works superbly, mixing humour with pathos, but without sounding in any way arch about it.

Clarvis, Noble & Jordan

“Freight Train”

(Village Life Recordings 141122VL)

Paul Clarvis – drums, Liam Noble – piano, synthesiser, Cathy Jordan – vocals, whistling, bouzouki, bodhran, bones

“Freight Train”, an album title that is surely destined to become a band name, is a new trio collaboration between the jazz musicians Paul Clarvis and Liam Noble and the Irish folk singer / instrumentalist Cathy Jordan, the latter best known as the lead vocalist with the Irish traditional band Dervish.

Jordan, born in County Roscommon, but now resident in Sligo, a hotbed of Irish jazz, has fronted the Irish traditional band Dervish since 1991, appearing on a total of nine albums. In 2019 the band was awarded a lifetime achievement award from the BBC as “icons of Irish Music”. Jordan has also been a member of the band The Unwanted and she has also pursued a solo career as a singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist releasing her début solo recording “All The Way Home” in 2012.

Jordan may be an unfamiliar name to jazz listeners, but pianist Liam Noble and drummer / percussionist Paul Clarvis are anything but. Both have appeared on The Jazzmann web pages on multiple occasions. They first worked together in the 1990s as part of an ensemble led by the American composer Moondog (1916-99).

Noble also leads his own groups, among them a recently formed trio with bassist Tom Herbert and drummer Seb Rochford. He also fronted a trio featuring bassist Dave Whitford and the late drummer Dave Wickins, this line up sometimes supplemented by trumpeter Chris Batchelor and saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings to form the quintet Brother Face.

Others with whom Noble has worked include saxophonists Julian Siegel, Mark Lockheart, Tim Whitehead, Harrison Smith, Alex Garnett, Zhenya Strigalev, Rachel Musson, Evan Parker, Chris Biscoe and the late Bobby Wellins, guitarist Phil Robson, vocalist Christine Tobin, bassists Arnie Somogyi, Jasper Hoiby and Trevor Lines and jazz French horn player Jim Rattigan.

A player with a truly international reputation Noble has also worked with many leading New York based musicians, among them saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock, trumpeter Peter Evans, guitarists Mary Halvorson and Marc Ducret, violinist Mat Manieri, cellist Okkyung Lee, bassists Drew Gress and Larry Grenadier, and drummers Tom Rainey and Eric Harland.

Clarvis is a trained classical percussionist who has worked with composers such as Leonard Bernstein, John Adams and Sir Harrison Birtwhistle. He has also been a prolific session drummer / percussionist and has appeared with Nina Simone, Mick Jagger, Stevie Wonder, Paul McCartney, Elton John, Bryan Ferry and many others. He has also contributed to dozens of film soundtracks and to the 2012 London Olympics opening ceremony.

His jazz credits include work with saxophonists Josephine Davies,  Sir John Dankworth, Andy Sheppard, Tim Garland, Alan Barnes, Jon Lloyd and Stan Sulzmann, pianists John Taylor and Gordon Beck, trumpeter Kenny Wheeler, bassist Mark Lewandowski and vocalist Norma Winstone,

Another musician with an international reputation his American collaborations have included work with Herbie Hancock, pianist / vocalist Mose Allison, bassist Steve Swallow and saxophonist Sam Rivers.

Clarvis has been a regular member of the bands Orquestra Mahatma,  Blink (with saxophonist Robin Fincker and pianist Alcyona Mick), Still Waters, led by trumpeter Henry Lowther and Pigfoot, led by trumpeter Chris Batchelor, this last named outfit also including Liam Noble. Clarvis is also a member of Batchelor’s new Zoetic quintet and of Babelfish, the quartet co-led by vocalist / lyricist Brigitte Beraha and pianist / composer Barry Green.

Both Noble and Clarvis are Professors of their respective instruments at London’s Royal Academy of Music.

The “Freight Train” project came about as the result of an online video commission for Clarvis from the Jazz West Midlands promoters’ network in 2020, slap bang in the middle of the Covid lockdown period. Supported by Arts Council England and credited to the Paul Clarvis Trio the online concert was recorded remotely in July 2020 and the performance forms the basis for the finished album. Introduced by Phil Rose of Birmingham Jazz the online concert was transmitted on 15th August 2020 and is still available to view via this link;

An element of musical humour has always informed the music of both Clarvis and Noble and there’s something of the irreverent spirit of Pigfoot about the “Freight Train” recording. The material is impressively diverse and includes material from both the jazz and folk traditions, plus a couple of items from the worlds of film and rock.  There’s a strong focus on the songs of Clarvis’ former boss Mose Allison, but overall it’s a pleasingly eclectic collection that touches many stylistic bases.

Jazz listeners will have some idea of what to expect from Clarvis and Noble but hopefully they will also be impressed with Jordan, who sings with great assurance and slots in superbly alongside the two jazz instrumentalists. The original video included instrumental versions of a couple of the pieces and also vocal versions of “The Mountains of Mourne” Jimmy Cox’s “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out” and Moondog’s “Paris” that unfortunately don’t make it to the final cut. Some of the album performances have been lifted directly from the lockdown stream while others were re-recorded at the trio’s first live meeting in the studio in January 2022.

The album commences with the trio’s take on “Dear Someone”, written by the American singer-songwriter Gillian Welch. Noble accompanies Jordan’s wistful vocal, with Clarvis joining to add subtle rhythmic punctuation from the start of the second verse. Noble and Clarvis then enjoy a sparkling musical dialogue mid tune, before Jordan returns to deliver the final verses. Jordan has a pure, but not overly sweet, voice and her singing here represents a convincing blend of assurance and vulnerability. She more than holds her own alongside these two great jazz instrumentalists.

The first Mose Allison song is “Don’t Worry About A Thing”, which finds Jordan singing with great assurance as the trio throw some blues flavourings into the pot. Clarvis and Noble again enjoy a brief bout of instrumental sparring but it’s Jordan’s confident vocal that really grabs the attention. She’s obviously a highly versatile vocalist whose singing isn’t just limited to the Irish folk tradition and who can handle blues and jazz with ease.

Clarvis’ drums introduce Elizabeth Cotton’s “Freight Train”, which, in the words of the press release, “swings, shuffles and sways”. The trio deliver a vibrant performance of this familiar classic and it’s obvious that all three members of the group are thoroughly enjoying themselves, with Jordan rattling those bones as part of the bustling rhythm track.

The 2020 livestream included an instrumental version of Nick Lowe’s “The Beast In Me”. For the album version Jordan joins Clarvis and Noble to deliver the dark and graphic lyrics. It’s the first song thus far not to be sourced from a broadly ‘Americana’ tradition, but it still sounds as if it could have been. Jordan’s whistling plus a dash of synthesiser add a touch of extra colour to the arrangement, with the ever inventive Noble also acting as a piano soloist.

“The Glow Worm” (Paul Lincke / Heinz Molten Backers) lightens the mood, ushered in by a combination of drums and voice and featuring an appropriately playful piano solo from Noble that hints at his fondness for the music of Thelonious Monk. Jordan relishes in the wit and warmth of the lyrics and yet again the three musicians sound as if they’re having a ball.

The trio continue to mix and match the emotions as they tackle Duke Ellington’s “Mood Indigo”, the darkness of the lyrics, and Jordan’s heartfelt delivery of them, countered by a whimsical arrangement that includes a stuttering synth solo from Noble. This blending of humour with pathos is a characteristic of the album as a whole.

There are more contrasts on the trio’s arrangement of “Truly Scrumptious”, a song written by the Sherman Brothers for the film “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”. Jordan’s sweet delivery of the saccharine lyrics is countered by atonal passages of synthesiser and the clatter of drums that recall some of the more avant garde moments of 1970s prog.

Synth also features, more softly and subtly this time, on the trio’s version of Dick Farrelly’s “Isle Of Innisfree”. Jordan delivers an appropriately yearning vocal, and again demonstrates her impressive whistling skills. Noble moves to acoustic piano to deliver a flowing solo.

Jordan’s voice introduces Mose Allison’s “If You’re Going To the City”, another slice of the composer’s blues informed wisdom. It represents another vocal tour de force from Jordan who sounds thoroughly at home with Allison’s material.

The much covered “Somewhere”, from Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim’s “West Side Story”, is delivered as a piano and drums instrumental, stark and evocative, with avant garde jazz trimmings.

Jordan returns for a delightful rendition of “Ain’t Nobody’s Business” (Porter Grainger / Everett Robbins), with Jordan relishing the opportunity to unleash her inner Bessie Smith. It’s the kind of song that Clarvis and Noble might otherwise perform with Pigfoot (the band name being a Smith reference) and their vivacious instrumental exchanges recall their work with Batchelor’s band. Great stuff all round.

The trio are equally playful on Allison’s cynical “Top 40”, a satire of the music business. Jordan’s brassy vocals are complemented by Noble’s whimsical synth solo. As with so many of the pieces on this album it’s great fun.

The disc concludes with a final Mose Allison song, “Was”. Less cynical than much of Allison’s output it’s a disarmingly simple love song with a lyric addressing the themes of love and nostalgia. Jordan’s wistful reading of the lyric is accompanied by woozy synth and brushed drums.

It may not be a ‘jazz’ album as such but it’s hard not to be enchanted by “Freight Train”, which takes a clutch of largely familiar songs and casts them in a new light, but without destroying anything of their original spirit. Clarvis and Noble bring great inventiveness and a jazz sensibility to a collection of songs largely rooted in the ‘Americana’ tradition, the duo’s trademark whimsicality counterbalanced by the warmth,  sincerity and sheer confidence of Jordan’s singing. The vocalist sings with great assurance across a variety of musical genres and also impresses with her versatility and enunciation. Bringing together a range of musical traditions “Freight Train” is a real meeting of minds and in general works superbly, mixing humour with pathos, but without sounding in any way arch about it.

“Freight Train” is available to purchase here;

The trio of Clarvis, Noble and Jordan are currently on tour in the UK and I hope to catch them at their date in Ross on Wye. The remaining tour dates are listed below;


Stratford Playhouse, 14 Rother St, CV37 6LU

Karamel 4 Coburg Rd, London N22 6UJ

East Side Jazz Club in Leytonstone , Leytonstone Social Club ,2 Harvey Road, Leytonstone, London E11 3DB.

Kings Head Hotel, 8 High Street. HR9 5HL

Coventry Jazz, The Albany Club, 10 Earlsdon St, Earlsdon CV5 6EG

Leeds Conservatoire, The Venue, 3 Quarry Hill, LS2 7PD

Magy’s Farm, 59 Dechomet Rd BT25 2HQ


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