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by Ian Mann

April 06, 2016


A richly varied album that explores a variety of jazz, folk and world music styles and does so with a good natured relish.

Philip Clouts Quartet


(Odradek Records ODRCD503)

Pianist and composer Philip Clouts was born in Cape Town, South Africa but has lived in the UK for many years. However African sounds have remained an important influence on his music as evidenced by this new quartet release on the American record label Odradek, an artist run not for profit venture that began with recordings by classical musicians before diversifying into jazz.

Clouts first came to my attention over a decade ago as part of the London based world jazz outfit Zubop, a group with a particular affinity for the music of the Gambia. He was one of the band’s principal composers and appeared on several of the group’s well received releases on the 33 record label. Zubop were also a highly enjoyable live act and I recall seeing them at the Assembly Rooms in nearby Ludlow back in 2003.

Clouts has lived in Dorset since 2006 and his previous quartet albums “Sennen Cove” (2010) and “The Hour of Pearl” (2013) both drew inspiration from the English coast and countryside. Clouts’ highly melodic writing style mixed English pastoralism with a panoply of world jazz styles and the resultant music was simultaneously both highly personal and eminently accessible. It’s a combination that has won Clouts considerable critical approval, but not, perhaps, the wider acclaim that his talent deserves. It may, however, be that his isolation from the London jazz scene has been a factor in this regard.

“Umoya” introduces a brand new line up with only Alex Keen on electric bass remaining from the previous quartet recordings. Dave Ingamells comes in on drums and the saxophone chair is occupied by rising star Samuel Eagles, brother of Partikel leader Duncan Eagles.

The new album is lavishly and highly professionally packaged, something of an Odradek trademark I suspect, and both Rob Adams’ liner notes and Clouts own observations on the music offer valuable insights into the eight compositions in an all original programme.

The album commences with “Lila”, which, Clouts informs us, is inspired by North African Sufi music, the title coming from a Gnawa ceremony performed in this tradition. Keen’s “trance like” bass line allied to Ingamell’s metronomic drumming, propels the piece and underpins lively solos by Clouts on piano and Eagles on soprano sax. There are hints of the modal jazz of John Coltrane, particularly in Eagles’ playing, and Clouts adds compositional variation by experimenting with different meters as the piece progresses. It all makes for a distinctive and attention grabbing opener.

Insistent rhythms are also a component of “Dreamy Driving” where Clouts teams them with a “floating melody” and also speaks of “allowing more freedom within the improvised elements”.  It’s another attractive piece, this time more obviously ‘jazz like’ in construction, that gives Eagles plenty of room to cut loose on alto, demonstrating his considerable ‘chops’ before handing over to the composer at the piano. Clouts solos with his customary fluency and inventiveness and there’s also space within the music for drummer Ingamells to express himself.

Clouts switches to Wurlitzer electric piano for “Walking in Starlight”, a piece inspired by the life and music of Fela Kuti. Nigerian rhythms form the backbone of the tune and the combination of Keen’s electric bass and Clouts’ keyboards makes for a pleasing brand of African funkiness. The consistently impressive Eagles takes the first solo followed by Clouts on Wurlitzer.

“Meandering”  is a piece closer to the jazz tradition and has a strong gospel feel to it, sounding a little like a tune from a classic Blue Note record. The solos here come from Eagles on bluesy alto, Clouts on piano, and Keen on singing, melodic electric bass.

“Taranto” sees Clouts casting his global musical net still further as he explores the melodies, harmonies and rhythms of Southern Italian folk music. Folk like melodies combine with denser jazz harmonies to frame ebullient solos from Eagles on alto and Clouts on piano.

The title track takes its name from the Zulu word “Umoya” meaning “life force” but sometimes translated as meaning “soul” or “spirit”. It’s an appropriately celebratory piece that combines folkloric and modal jazz elements with an underlying funkiness. There are joyously exuberant solos from Clouts on piano and Eagles on alto, both of them well supported by the propulsive and responsive section of Keen and Ingamells.

“Amor” represents another excursion into the world of European folk music with Clouts basing his composition on a Romanian musical scale. Eagles switches to soprano for a piece that combines exotic Balkan melodies with some dramatic dynamic contrasts with drummer Ingamells showing up strongly in the tune’s closing stages. Meanwhile Clouts’ expansive piano solo provides a degree of balancing lyricism.

The album closes with the Township inspired sounds of “Direction South”, a re-working piece that was the title track of an earlier trio album. It’s a ‘feel good’ piece that captures something of the exuberance of Township Jazz and features relaxed but swinging solos by Clouts on piano and Eagles on alto, these complemented by the underlying funkiness of Keen and Ingamells.

There’s little of the landscape inspired English pastoralism that informed both “Sennen Cove” and “The Hour Of Pearl” but perhaps that’s no bad thing. Clouts has come up with an album that is significantly different to its two immediate predecessors but he has lost none of his flair for a good melody and a tight groove. The result is a richly varied album that explores a variety of jazz, folk and world music styles and does so with a good natured relish. Eagles, who impressed with his own leadership début, “Next Beginning”, in 2014 sounds like a particularly natural fit for the Clouts quartet and is in fine form throughout while Keen and Ingamells also combine well to create a flexible and supportive rhythm team. Clouts wears his own virtuosity lightly as he demonstrates his mastery of a wide range of jazz piano styles.

Fans who enjoyed “Sennen Cove” and “The Hour Of Pearl” will doubtless enjoy this album too and the sheer variety of the record should also appeal to anybody who enjoyed the music of Clouts’ former band Zubop. I’ve always been rather partial to the music of Philip Clouts and this melodic gem of an album is highly recommended. 

For details of forthcoming live performances please visit

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