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Philip Clouts Quartet

Philip Clouts Quartet, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 30/10/2022.

by Ian Mann

November 01, 2022


As a composer Clouts' writing is highly melodic, rhythmically varied and stylistically and culturally diverse. In this latest quartet he has musicians capable of bringing his ideas to vital fruition.

Philip Clouts Quartet, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 30/10/2022.

Philip Clouts – piano, Samuel Eagles – alto saxophone, Tim Fairhall – double bass, Ted Carrasco – drums, percussion

BMJ’s final club event of 2022 (the Wall2Wall Jazz Festival will take place at the same venue 18,19,20 November) featured an excellent performance from pianist / composer Philip Clouts and his quartet.

Born in South Africa Clouts has lived in the UK since early childhood but elements of African music and culture still exert a strong influence on his playing and composing.

He first came to my attention as a member of the band Zubop, a popular London based jazz/roots combo that released a series of consistently enjoyable albums for the 33 Records label during the 1990s and early 2000s. The group exhibited a particular affinity for the music of the Gambia and in early 2003 toured the UK with an extended line up featuring the Gambian musicians Juldeh Camara and Njega Sohna. A live album, “Zubop Gambia”, largely recorded at Ronnie Scott’s, was subsequently released on 33 and is still available at Clouts’ live shows. I saw the Zubop Gambia band at Ludlow Assembly Rooms on 30th January 2003 but have only just acquired a copy of that live album.

Following the eventual demise of Zubop Clouts has largely concentrated on a solo career, releasing the trio album “Direction South” on 33 in 2004, a recording made in the company of bassist Alex Keen and former Zubop drummer Sean Randle. Incidentally the versatile Randle now plies his trade with the folk rock sextet Oysterband, another of my personal favourites.

Clouts subsequently moved out of London and relocated to Lyme Regis in Dorset, where he still lives. It is still unusual for a nationally known musician to be based so far out of the capital but the countryside and coastline of South West England has proved to be particularly inspirational for Clouts.  This fed into his 2010 album “Sennen Cove” (Point Records) which introduced a quartet line up featuring Clouts, Keen, alto saxophonist Carlos Lopez Real and drummer Paul Cavacuiti. This really was an excellent record and featured Clouts’ evocative and highly melodic compositions alongside some superb playing from all four participants. Review here;

This was followed in 2013 by “”Hour of Pearl” (Point Records) another quartet recording featuring Lopez-Real and Keen and with Jon Desbruslais taking over at the drums. This album demonstrated Clouts’ mastery of a variety of global jazz styles, allied to his strong melodic sense. “Well written, attractively melodic, stylistically varied and superbly played” commented the Jazzmann at the time. Full review here;

In 2016 “Umoya”, another quartet album, appeared, released on the American label Odarek. This introduced another new line up with Clouts and Keen joined by Samuel Eagles on alto and Dave Ingamells at the kit. This was another excellent album and remains his most recent release. Let’s hope that Philip Clouts will be able to return to the studios again before too long. The presence of some new compositions in tonight’s programme, alongside some older more familiar material, suggests that this might be a possibility. Let’s hope so, it’s been far too long since we heard a new Philip Clouts album. In the meantime my review of “Umoya” can be found here;

I’ve been fortunate enough to witness a number of live performances from the Clouts Quartet over the years including a visit to the Queens Head in Monmouth by the “Hour of Pearl” line up in 2013.

In 2016 , at the instigation of Brecon Jazz Club’s Lynne Gornall, Clouts was invited to assemble a quartet of Welsh musicians and to undertake a short tour of the principality. The pianist teamed up with saxophonist Tamasin Reardon, bassist Linus Fenton and drummer Matt Griffiths and the resultant tour was adjudged a great success . Although I missed the Brecon gig I was able to catch up with the group at Monmouth, which proved to be a highly enjoyable event, albeit one that I didn’t attend in a journalistic capacity.

Such was the success of the tour that Clouts was invited back to Brecon in January to open the 2017 Brecon Jazz club programme at The Muse venue. That performance featured a different version of the “Welsh Quartet” with Clouts renewing his partnership with Reardon in the company of a fresh rhythm team featuring Cardiff based musician Pete Komor on bass and with Romarna Campbell at the drums. That show is reviewed here;

Tonight’s show at a pleasingly well attended Melville Centre introduced Clouts’ new working quartet featuring Samuel Eagles, a bandleader in his own right,  on alto sax, Tim Fairhall on double bass and Ted Carrasco at the drums.

The quartet began with the as yet unrecorded “Tilt” which combined Latin rhythms with strong melodic hooks and tight ensemble playing. Fluent, probing solos came from Clouts and Eagles, with Fairhall’s bass also prominent during the ‘piano trio’ sections.

From the “Hour of Pearl” album “On West Hill” introduced something of a gospel flavour on a piece inspired both by the writing of John Steinbeck, specifically “Cannery Row”, and the name of Clouts’ street in Lyme Regis. The author’s musings on the subject of “being at home” helped to provide the composer with a suitable title. Eagles stated the melodic theme on alto before soloing more expansively. He was followed by the leader on piano and Fairhall on double bass, the latter supported by Carrasco’s distinctive drum and tambourine accompaniment.

“I like to cast my stylistic net wide” observed Clouts at one point and next up was the title track of the “Umoya” album, named for the Zulu word meaning ‘life force’ or ‘life spirit’. This revealed a more obvious South African influence, with Clouts having named both Abdullah Ibrahim and Chris McGregor as significant inspirations.  Clouts’ piano solo was followed by the swooping and soaring of Eagles’ alto on a joyous piece that reflected the vitality and positivity of its title.

“Nyasa Lullaby” was inspired by the music of a Tanzanian group of Clouts’ acquaintance and appears in trio form on the “Direction South” album. Based on the notes of a single scale it was introduced by a dialogue between Clouts’ piano and Carrasco’s cymbals, with Fairhall subsequently joining to sketch a melodic bass line above a combination of piano arpeggios and cymbal embellishments. This quartet arrangement also incorporated Eagles’ melodic sax explorations, underscored by a combination of deft brushwork and atmospheric mallet rumbles from Carrasco. Further solos followed from both Clouts and Fairhall.

The first set concluded with “Direction South”, the title track of that 2004 trio album but a piece subsequently re-recorded in quartet format on “Umoya”. With its combination of arresting melodic hooks and equally infectious rhythmic grooves this was a piece that captured the sheer joyousness of South African ‘Township Jazz’ and featured Clouts at his most Ibrahim like. The pianist shared the solos with saxophonist Eagles and the performance concluded with a dynamic drum feature from the excellent Carrasco. The drummer was the only member of the group that I hadn’t seen performing live before. I was hugely impressed with his contribution, as were the other members of the BMJ audience.

The beginning of set two saw no letting up in the energy levels as the quartet commenced with “Walking In Sunlight”, another composition from the “Umoya” album. This is a piece influenced by the music of West Africa and particularly the life and music of Afro-beat pioneer Fela Kuti. The recorded version features Clouts on Wurlitzer piano but here he continued to perform on the Melville’s upright acoustic.
Fairhall’s driving bass groove pointed the way on this riffy, highly rhythmic piece that embraced a particularly African brand of funkiness, with solos coming from Eagles on alto and the leader on piano.

We remained in West Africa for the new tune “Biram Blues”, a piece inspired by the Biram Harp, a traditional instrument from Niger. This was another highly rhythmic piece, introduced by the combination of double bass and drums, with subsequent solos coming from Clouts, Eagles and the consistently impressive Fairhall.

A change of mood and pace with “Solitude”, an as yet unrecorded piece written during the Covid lockdowns. The mood here was suitably dolorous and atmospheric with Eagles’ sax roaming ruminatively above a rubato backdrop of piano arpeggios, mallet rumbles, cymbal shimmers and Fairhall’s mobile bass figures. A more spacious feel subsequently emerged with the alto piping gently above sparse piano chording, deeply resonant bass and softly brushed drums as the piece evolved into more of an orthodox jazz ballad. Lyrical solos followed from Eagles and Clouts before the piece concluded with a reprise of the earlier ‘rubato’ section.

Initially “Scintillate” proceeded at a less frenetic tempo than its title might suggest, delivering its highly melodic theme at medium pace before gathering momentum and intensity during the solos from Clouts and Eagles.

Clouts ushered in the closing “Rubik’s Rubric” with a count of six, possibly a reference to its rhythmic complexities and tricky post bop theme. This provided the jumping off point for expansive solos from Eagles, really stretching out on alto, and Clouts, plus further features from both Fairhall and Carrasco.This complex, high energy piece represented a terrific way to round off an excellent evening of music making and the warmth of the audience reception ensured that an encore was inevitable.

Clouts chose to cool things down again with a performance of “As Evening Falls”, a particularly beautiful piece from the “Hour of Pearl” album. Inspired by Italian film music of the 1960s this was introduced by piano and bass before Eagles stated the melodic theme, with the additional support of Carrasco’s brushed drums. The fragility of Eagles’ tone was a total contrast to the intensity of his playing on the previous piece and his solo was followed by Clouts’ piano lyricism and Fairhall’s melodic double bass, with the saxophone returning at the close.

This was the first time that I had seen Clout’s regular quartet in a formal ‘concert’ setting and I was hugely impressed with their performance. In addition to the playing Clouts’ succinct between tunes announcements gave just the right amount of information about each individual piece.

I’ve always rated Clouts highly as a composer, his writing is highly melodic, rhythmically varied and stylistically and culturally diverse. In Eagles, Fairhall and Carrasco he has musicians capable of bringing his ideas to colourful and vital fruition and tonight’s performance ranks right up there with some of the best ever seen at BMJ. One audience member even compared Clouts’ playing to that of Keith Jarrett (one of his acknowledged influences) and one could see where he was coming from with that.

Any new recording from this edition of the Philip Clouts Quartet will be very keenly anticipated.

For more information on Philip Clouts and to purchase his albums please visit

For information on the forthcoming Wall2Wall Jazz Festival visit


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