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Josephine Davies

In the Corners of Clouds


by Ian Mann

November 09, 2018


"Davies continues to demonstrate her mastery of the saxophone trio format". Ian Mann enjoys the second album by Josephine Davies' Satori trio.

Josephine Davies’ Satori

“In the Corners of Clouds”

(Whirlwind Recordings WR4730)

“In the Corners of Clouds” is the second album by the Satori trio, led by tenor saxophonist and composer Josephine Davies. It follows the acclaimed 2017 release “Satori”, also issued by Whirlwind Recordings.

The first Satori album featured Davies alongside the talents of Dave Whitford on double bass and Paul Clarvis on drums and percussion. The phenomenally busy Clarvis has since been replaced by the scarcely less busy James Maddren, arguably the most in demand British jazz drummer of his generation.

In August 2018 I was privileged to witness the Davies/Whitford/Maddren trio give a brilliant performance of much of the material from this latest album at Brecon Jazz Festival. It certainly whetted my appetite for the release of the recording and I’m pleased to report that “In the Corners of Clouds” doesn’t disappoint.

Originally from the Shetland Isles but now based in London Davies was a relative late comer to the jazz ranks, switching from the classical to the jazz course after hearing the music of John Coltrane. She’s been an important part of the UK jazz scene for a number of years, despite taking time out to complete a doctorate in psychotherapy.

Prior to the formation of Satori I’d become used to hearing Davies’ playing in more mainstream contexts including small group work with bands led by pianist Steve Melling and bassist Dominic Howells. At Brecon she also appeared as part of a band led by the South African born harmonica and keyboard player Adam Glasser.

Davies’ large ensemble engagements have included flautist Gareth Lockrane’s Big Band,  Bassist Calum Gourlay’s Big Band, the London Jazz Orchestra, and, perhaps most significantly, the Pete Hurt Jazz Orchestra with whom she has also recorded, appearing on the 2016 release “A New Start”.

Prior to Satori Davies led the JD5, a quintet featuring Whitford on bass plus trumpeter Robbie Robson, keyboard player Ross Stanley and drummer Nick Smalley. Focussing on Davies’ original writing this line up recorded two enjoyable albums, “Elation” and “Perspective”.

Currently she is also the leader of the all female folk-jazz trio Orenda, alongside vocalist Brigitte Beraha and pianist Alcyona Mick, exploring the traditional music of a number of European countries and blending them with jazz and classical elements.

But it’s arguably the chordless trio Satori that represents Davies’ most adventurous project to date. The exposed setting ensures that this is jazz without a safety net,but once again Davies and her colleagues rise to the challenge with considerable aplomb.

Davies has said of her choice of band name;
‘Satori’ is a word derived from Buddhist philosophy that describes an experience of spontaneous awakening, it is understood to arise only after a period of more concentrated preparation or focus. I find this analogous to the process of improvisation where so much conscious practice and hard graft occurs in order to make possible the moments of freedom and expression within performance”.

The trio’s music exhibits the influence not only of John Coltrane but also the classic saxophone trios of both Sonny Rollins and Joe Henderson, the latter a particular touchstone for Davies. The influence of trios led by more contemporary saxophonists has also been mentioned, notably Julian Arguelles and Rich Perry, the latter a member of the Maria Schneider Orchestra. Schneider herself is a considerable influence on Davies who writes for the London Jazz Orchestra and is also planning her own large ensemble project.

With “In the Corners of Clouds” the new look trio has adopted a more open ended approach with Davies commenting;
“We played a lot of shows after the first release and soon I had written another album’s worth of material. Because our approach has become more and more open I began to see my tunes mainly as a basis for improvisation. It might be seen as limiting to have no traditional ‘harmonic instrument’ in this line up, particularly with the deeper frequencies of the tenor, but it actually throws melody to the fore, which I like. And if melody is happening you can really do whatever you want. We create so much space together that it actually encourages me to compose and play in a different way.”

Recorded at Buffalo Studios over the course of Valentine’s Day 2018 the album is comprised almost entirely of first takes, beginning with “Wabi Sabi”, the tune title another reflection of Davies’ fascination with Japanese philosophy. Whitford and Maddren provide the constantly evolving rhythmic flow that provides the impetus for Davies’ attractively melodic tenor improvisations. No matter how deeply she probes a tangible sense of melody always remains, something that still applies even during the brilliant Maddren’s brief unaccompanied drum passages. For all his technical prowess Maddren’s playing is always innately musical, making him the perfect fit for this exposed trio situation.

“Song of the Dancing Saint” is Davies’ dedication to the late, great John Coltrane. Whitford’s bass comes to the fore here, both as a grounding force and as a fluent solo instrument. Davies continues to solo inventively and melodically, channelling Coltrane but never imitating him. Meanwhile Maddren drums with an insouciant polyrhythmic brilliance, always finding the right sound, colour or accent.

The melody of the title track has a folk tinged, almost naive, melody that is sometimes reminiscent of Polar Bear with Maddren’s drum patterns sounding a little like those of Seb Rochford. Davies’ own playing has a melodic quality that recalls Mark Lockheart. Inspired by two Japanese Haikus it’s one of Davies’ most melodic and accessible pieces.

Davies is keen to emphasise that Satori’s music occupies a distinctive niche midway between straight-ahead and free jazz without ever being either. It’s a position that was warmly appreciated by the Brecon Jazz audience in the delightful setting of St. Mary’s Church. The trio’s adventurous, but still accessible approach was rewarded by a well deserved encore. I clearly wasn’t the only one to be impressed by the sheer quality of Satori’s performance.

“Oddities” commences with an engaging passage of unaccompanied saxophone before alighting on a quirky, bop infused melody that provides the jumping off point for an absorbing bass and drum dialogue plus further robust tenor soloing from Davies. It’s an agreeably quirky, up-tempo piece enlivened by the colourful drumming of the irrepressible Maddren, one can almost see his trademark grin as he gleefully circumnavigates his kit.

Maddren switches to brushes for the appropriately introspective “The Space Between Thoughts”, which features a softer, breathier tenor sound and includes a feature for Whitford’s melodic, but deeply resonant bass.  Inspired by Buddhist meditation there’s an almost hymnal quality about the tune, surprisingly it didn’t feature in the set list at St. Mary’s.

One piece that did feature at Brecon was “Cry”, a more overt dedication to Coltrane inspired by his composition “Alabama”. Here Davies does genuinely sound like her inspiration, that Trane-like “cry” of the title is very much there in her playing.

The breezy and charming “Lazy” is influenced by the ‘Township’ jazz of South Africa and there’s a joyous quality about the playing with both Whitford and Maddren featuring strongly as Davies stretches out fluently.

The free-wheeling “Scatter” is the closest the trio get to genuine free jazz and embodies Satori’s spirit of freedom and interaction without descending into mere bluster.  This piece closed the set at Brecon, before the trio were invited back for an encore, choosing to play the Joe Henderson tune “Y Ya la Quiero”.

Again sporting the distinctive artwork of Fini Bearman “In the Corners of Clouds” is a worthy follow up to the first Satori album with Maddren sounding like he’s been a member of the group for years. Critical reaction has again been favourable as Davies continues to demonstrate her mastery of the saxophone trio format.

Satori looks to be a project with considerable mileage still left in it and the trio is currently touring the UK. Forthcoming dates as below;

11/11/18 - Satori, Southampton Jazz Club
17/11/18 - Satori, Clun Valley Jazz, Shropshire
22/11/18 - Satori, Cambridge Modern Jazz Club
04/12/18 - Satori ALBUM LAUNCH, Vortex London
14/12/18 - Satori, Crookes Social Club, Sheffield


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