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Philip Clouts Quartet

Philip Clouts Welsh Quartet, Brecon Jazz Club, The Muse Arts Centre, Brecon, 10/01/2017.

Photography: Photograph sourced from the Brecon Jazz Club website [url=][/url]

by Ian Mann

January 12, 2017


This was a great start to the New Year for Brecon Jazz Club. Ian Mann enjoys an evening of Township Jazz with pianist and composer Philip Clouts' one-off 'Welsh Quartet'.

Philip Clouts Welsh Quartet, Brecon Jazz Club, The Muse Arts Centre, Brecon, 10/01/2017.

The first Brecon Jazz Club event of 2017 saw a pleasingly sizeable crowd braving the January weather to pack out the Club’s new venue, The Muse, for the second visit to Brecon by the “Welsh Quartet” led by pianist and composer Philip Clouts.

Clouts’ current working band includes London based musicians saxophonist Samuel Eagles, bassist Alex Keen and drummer Dave Ingamells but in 2016, at the instigation of Brecon Jazz Club’s Lynne Gornall, the pianist was invited to assemble a quartet of Welsh musicians and to undertake a short tour of the principality. Clouts teamed up with saxophonist Tamasin Reardon, bassist Linus Fenton and drummer Matt Griffiths and the resultant tour was adjudged a great success with Brecon Jazz Club and the Queens Head in Monmouth among the venues visited by the new quartet . 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 to open the 2017 Brecon Jazz club programme at The Muse. Tonight’s performance featured a different version of the “Welsh Quartet” with Clouts renewing his partnership with Reardon in the company of a new rhythm team featuring Cardiff based musician Pete Komor on bass with Romarna Campbell at the drums.

Komor, a graduate of the RWCMD in Cardiff, is a stalwart of the South Wales jazz scene and has played at Brecon Jazz Club on numerous previous occasions, among them performances by the Manana Collective and by pianist Juan Galiardo.

Meanwhile Campbell, a young drummer based in Birmingham, made many friends in Brecon when she appeared as part of a trio led by the experienced pianist and composer Geoff Eales at the Castle Hotel as part of the 2016 Brecon Jazz weekend. Such was the success of that appearance it was almost inevitable that she would be invited back to Brecon and her return was warmly appreciated by the Brecon Jazz Club crowd.
Born in South Africa but raised in London Clouts has always retained a strong affinity for the music of his birth and tonight’s event was billed as an evening of “Township Jazz”. The programme featured a mixture of Clouts’ own compositions alongside classic from the genre by such famous musical names as Abdullah Ibrahim, Hugh Masekela and Miriam Makeba.

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 Ludlow back in 2003. However I don’t want to give too many of his biographical details away at this stage as some of these found expression in Clouts’ informative tune announcements.

The newly formed quartet (this was Campbell’s first ever gig with the band) began with a Township Jazz classic, Abdullah Ibrahim’s “Mannenburg”, a tune that was a 1974 hit in both the US and South Africa and which became something of an anti-apartheid anthem. Reardon took the first solo on alto sax, adopting a clean, smooth tone reminiscent of one of her jazz heroes, the great Paul Desmond. Clouts followed on electric piano, shadowed by Komor and Campbell.

Clouts’ keyboard introduced “Qongqothwane”, the Miriam Makeba hit more usually known as “The Click Song” by European listeners unable to pronounce its Xhosa language title. Reardon’s alto then picked out the melody prior to solos for piano and saxophone plus a well received feature from local bass hero Komor.

Clouts informed the audience that he had been born in Cape Town but had been brought up in London, the family having moved to the UK when Philip was aged only one. “I grew up away from the country, but was still steeped in South African culture” he explained. His abiding interest in the continent of his birth also extended to other African cultures. The original tune “Nyasa Lullaby” was inspired by some Tanzanian musicians that he heard in London. Clouts’ attempt to write a tune in a similar style using a single scale resulted in a piece with a simple but delightful melody and something of a modal jazz feel. It’s a piece that is obviously a personal favourite of the composer’s and he has recorded it twice, once on the 2004 trio album “Direction South” and more recently on the 2013 quartet outing “The Hour of Pearl”. Tonight the solos were shared between the composer’s piano and Reardon’s lilting soprano with Campbell’s sensitive brushwork also contributing substantially to the success of the performance.

Returning to the Township Jazz canon the quartet played Hugh Masekela’s “Namari”, a tune sourced from the trumpeter’s classic 1972 album “Home Is Where The Music Is”. Reardon stated the theme on alto and later returned to solo following Clouts’ dense, probing piano explorations. There was also a feature for Komor who soloed melodically on double bass accompanied by Campbell’s succinct drum commentary.

Clouts is now based in Lyme Regis - “it’s a lot like Capetown” he told the audience “we’ve both got the sea, they’ve got Table Mountain, we’ve got Golden Cap!”. Joking apart many of Clouts’ compositions on his recent albums have been inspired by the land and sea scapes of the West Country, particularly so on the 2010 quartet album “Sennen Cove”. From that album “Aqua Glide” was inspired by the surfers that gather on the Dorset coast and tonight’s performance featured a lively solo from Reardon on soprano sax, an expansive piano solo from Clouts and further features for Komor and Campbell, with the drummer supplying a series of sparky breaks.

An enjoyable set closed with Clouts’ “Direction South”, another tune that is a personal favourite of the composer’s and one that has been recorded in both trio and quartet formats. Clouts readily admits the influence of Abdullah Ibrahim on the piece but the addition of a reggae groove recalls the multi-culturalism of his earlier band, Zubop. Solos here came from Reardon on alto and Clouts on piano with Campbell weighing in with an enthusiastically received drum feature. 

If anything the second set was to be even better. The success of the first half seemed to have relaxed the group and they commenced with an audience request that they had received during the interval. This was Billy Taylor’s “I Wish I Knew”, famously covered by Nina Simone and also once the theme for Barry Norman’s “Film” programmes. This familiar, gospel inflected opener included solos from Reardon on alto, Clouts on piano and Komor on bass and immediately got the audience back on side.

Clouts continued with the gospel theme with his own “West Hill”, named for the street on which he lives in Lyme Regis. Gospel tinged piano and martial drums prompted solos from Reardon on alto, Clouts on piano and Komor on highly melodic double bass.

Abdullah Ibrahim’s “Mandela”, written during the period of the future president’s incarceration, proved to be gentler and more melodic than the circumstances of its writing might suggest. Reardon was at her most Desmond-like on alto with further solos coming from Clouts and Komor.

From the album “Sennen Cove” Clouts’ own “Quicksilver” was another piece with a surfing inspired title. This Latin tinged tune saw Reardon switching to soprano and dancing airily above Clouts’ insistent piano vamping and Campbell’s crisp cymbal work. Clouts’ own solo was one of his best of the night, expansive and percussive with the pianist at his most animated. His mood was transferred to Campbell who closed the piece with a colourful drum feature. A former student on the Jazz Course at Birmingham Conservatoire the young drummer is due to continue her studies at the famous Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA, USA and will be travelling to America in September. No doubt all at Brecon Jazz Club will wish her well.

Clouts turned to another South African emigre for the next piece. Saxophonist Joe Melinga was exiled to Switzerland rather than the UK which may explain why so few British jazz listeners are familiar with his music. This is a pity, as his “African Mood” is a delightfully melodic piece, introduced here by eight bars of solo piano from Clouts with bass and drums being added incrementally prior to Reardon’s theme statement on alto and Clouts subsequent, deeply lyrical, solo.

The quartet concluded with Clouts’ “Commotion In C”, another piece sourced from the “Sennen Cove” album and one partly inspired by “the exhilaration of the surfers in Lyme Bay”. The other big influence is the composer’s South African roots and the sounds of Township Jazz. Clouts hasn’t been back to South Africa for twenty years, “my relationship with the country is purely through the music” he explains. And this piece is a real celebration of that relationship, a joyous, ‘feel good’ piece of music with strong melodies and infectious grooves here incorporating solos from Reardon on alto and Clouts on piano plus cameos from Komor and Campbell.

After thanking the musicians and publicising future events Lynne Gornall was able to tempt the quartet back for a well deserved encore and the musical world tour continued with a trip across the Atlantic for Clouts’ New Orleans inspired “Second Line”. You can probably imagine what this sounded like as Reardon on alto shared the solos with “Professor” Clouts on piano and Campbell at the traps, delighting her Welsh fanbase with a final drum feature.

Despite a little understandable hesitancy early on the members of this one off quartet acquitted themselves very well, both individually and collectively. This is a tribute not only to the skills of the musicians but also to the strength of Clouts’ writing. His themes are strong, melodic, accessible and memorable and his compositions more than held their own alongside some of the classics from the Township Jazz genre.

This was a great start to the New Year for Brecon Jazz Club.     


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