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QOW TRIO, Cheltenham Jazz Club, The Victory Club, Cheltenham, Glos. 12/02/2024.

by Ian Mann

February 15, 2024


"This was music that was fluid and constantly mutating". Ian Mann enjoys a live performance by QOW TRIO and takes a look at their new album "The Hold Up".

QOW TRIO, Cheltenham Jazz Club, The Victory Club, Cheltenham, Glos. 12/02/2024.

Riley Stone-Lonergan – tenor sax, Eddie Myer – double bass, Spike Wells – drums

Back in February 2021 I gave a highly favourable review to the eponymous debut album from QOW TRIO, a multi-generational ensemble featuring the combined talents of saxophonist Riley Stone-Lonergan, bassist Eddie Myer and drummer Spike Wells.

The group takes its name from a composition by the late, great saxophonist Dewey Redman and a version of Redman’s piece appears on QOW TRIO’s debut recording, which is reviewed here;

January 2024 saw the release of the trio’s second album “The Hold Up”, which like its predecessor appears on the Ubuntu Music record label. The band have been touring the UK in support of this new recording and once I’d spotted that the trio would be performing in Cheltenham I marked their gig down as a definite ‘must see’.

This was my first visit to Cheltenham Jazz Club since the summer of 2023 but I was made most welcome by the members of the committee. 2024 represents the 40th anniversary of the Club presenting jazz in Cheltenham and an exciting programme is promised for the months ahead. Congratulations to all concerned at Cheltenham Jazz Club on this magnificent achievement.

The informal setting of the Victory Club Ballroom was the perfect location for QOW TRIO, a group of adventurous musicians who like to have musical fun and who don’t take themselves too seriously. One CJC regular had recently seen QOW TRIO in nearby Stroud and promised us that we were in for a great evening. He was definitely not wrong.

As the instrumental configuration of the group suggests their primary musical influences are the classic saxophone trios of Sonny Rollins and Joe Henderson.  Indeed in its earliest days the band was actually known as Sonnymoon For Three. Other influences include Dewey Redman,  Lester Young, Pharaoh Sanders, Charlie Parker, John and Alice Coltrane and more contemporary musicians such as Walter Smith III and Joel Frahm.

“We see QOW TRIO as looking back to the heroes of the music, and looking forward to a future of endless, unlimited possibilities”   explained Myer at the time of the release of the debut album.

Meanwhile Stone-Lonergan’s take on the group and its music echoes that of Myer;
“I love playing with this band because it combines both my love of the wonderful tradition of our jazz forbearers with my love of absolute freedom and the feeling that anything could happen.”

Tonight Myer, who has also worked as a journalist and promoter, handled all the announcements in a rambling, jovial and sometimes surreal manner. He informed us that this was a chordless trio, and that as a consequence its members were at liberty to ‘roam free’, the focus being on improvisation, group interaction and musical exploration.

Whereas the debut placed the focus on material from the jazz and bebop tradition and included just two original compositions from the pen of Stone-Lonergan the new release places a greater emphasis on original writing with Stone-Lonergan now providing four of the twelve items. His Rollins inspired compositions are very much in the QOW TRIO style and provide excellent launching pads for the trio’s unique style of collective improvising.

Tonight however the focus was on classic jazz material performed in the trio’s fluid, free-wheeling style, the leadership baton constantly being passed around the three musicians in this trio of equals.

The performance began with veteran Wells (born 1946) counting in the Duke Ellington / Billy Strayhorn tune “Intimacy of the Blues”, his whip smart drumming adding power and drive to the music, even when he switched to brushes. The music evolved through a series of conventional jazz solos interspersed with dialogues between two of the three instruments, including a sax and bass episode and bass and drums dialogue. All three musicians enjoyed what were effectively solo features with Wells delivering a series of explosive drum breaks. At the age of seventy eight he still drums with an extraordinary power that can sometimes threaten to overwhelm his fellow musicians. In the hurly burly musical world of QOW TRIO Myer and Stone-Lonergan were obliged to respond with some pretty muscular playing of their own. Myer is a busy presence at the bass, a highly physical player who also helps to impart the group with a mighty rhythmic drive and who is also a hugely accomplished double bass soloist. Stone-Lonergan is the youngest member of the group but has a deep seated love of the jazz tradition, although he is also involved in other more contemporary sounding projects such as the collaborative Family Band quartet.

Myer has said of QOW TRIO’s remarkable inter-generational chemistry;
 “As individuals, our playing experience is different so we all come at the same thing from different angles but find a common ground and dialogue there. It makes it all seem fresh”.

Next up was the Lee Morgan tune “Our Man Higgins”, which I’d always assumed to be a tribute to the drummer Billy Higgins, with whom Morgan played. Myer revealed that it was also part inspired by a butler character in a failed US sitcom. This commenced with a feisty series of sax and drum exchanges anchored by Myer’s double bass. Stone-Lonergan’s dynamic sax solo was then underpinned by Myer’s rapid and muscular bass plucking while a subsequent bass and drum dialogue evolved into a full on drum feature from Wells, underscored by Stone-Lonergan’s recurring sax vamp.  The piece then concluded as it began with a fiery set of drum and sax exchanges. The rapport between the oldest and youngest members of the band is extraordinary, the pair united by their shared love of the music of both Sonny Rollins and Lester Young.

The first tune from the new album to be performed was the trio’s version of the Thelonious Monk composition “Bright Mississippi, with Stone-Lonergan stating the theme before handing over to Wells for an explosive but innately musical drum solo that included the effective use of cow bell, his circumnavigations of the kit given sturdy support by the muscular thrum of Myer’s grounding bass. Stone-Lonergan’s dialogue with Myer was then punctuated by Wells, before the tenor player then began to stretch out and explore more expansively. A bass and drum dialogue then expanded into a substantial bass feature for the impressive Myer.

Also from the new album we heard a stunning version of a second Ellington/ Strayhorn number, the ballad “The Starcrossed Lovers”, ushered in by a passage of rich, dark arco bass from Myer, later augmented by Stone-Lonergan’s crepuscular tenor sax and the soft rumble of Wells’ mallets. When Myer put down the bow Stone-Lonergan embarked on a gently brooding tenor solo as Wells acted in the role of colourist, variously deploying mallets, brushes and sticks.

The only original of the evening was Stone-Lonergan’s title track from the new recording, a piece written in the style of Sonny Rollins and boasting an attractive melodic hook that provided the jumping off point for the trio’s explorations. The composer’s urgent tenor sax soloing was augmented by Myer’s propulsive bass lines and the ringing of Wells’ cymbals. The drummer gave a dynamic performance throughout, culminating in a series of effervescent drum breaks.

The new album also includes a version of “Along Came John”, the signature tune of the late American jazz organist ‘Big’ John Patton (1935 – 2002). As journalist Daniel Spicer observes in his liner notes for “The Hold Up” QOW TRIO invest the tune with their own confident style of swagger. The suggestion of adding Patton’s tune to the QOW repertoire originally came from Wells, who kick started things from the kit, his solo drum intro later augmented by Myer’s bass pulse and Stone-Lonergan’s theme statement. The saxophonist’s subsequent solo was both powerful and soulful as he really started digging in, before eventually stepping back and handing over to Myer and Wells, who were featured both in tandem and individually. This was an enjoyable way to end a first set that had taken its audience on an exciting musical journey, with the trio exploring some of the classics from the jazz repertoire in a style that was refreshingly urgent and adventurous.

Wells and Myer combined to usher in the first number of the second set, a version of the Wayne Shorter composition “Adam’s Apple”. Stone-Lonergan was later to stretch out on tenor, followed by another bass and drum dialogue, plus a closing feature from Wells. Like several other pieces played this evening this was a tune that has yet to be recorded by the trio. One suspects that like so many other jazz acts QOW TRIO are already well ahead of the record / release schedule and are playing tunes from the next album already, despite notionally touring to promote the current release.

Tenor sax and arco bass introduced “If Ever I Would Leave You”, a song from the musical “Camelot”. With the addition of Wells and with Myers’ jettisoning of the bow this was about as ‘straight-ahead’ as QOW TRIO got, with expansive solos coming from Stone-Lonergan on tenor and Myer at the bass, the latter briefly flourishing the bow again at the close.

Myer described Joe Henderson as “the hippest tenor player ever” and a version of Henderson’s “Jinrikisha”, named after a type of Japanese rickshaw, provided the vehicle for some of QOW TRIO’s most fearless, free-wheeling improvising, featuring some dynamic group interplay and dazzling individual features, the whole thing culminating in a series of invigorating sax and drum exchanges.

There was a return to the new album repertoire with a rendition of the Jackie McLean tune “Hip Strut”, a highly rhythmic, blues tinged piece that elicited a rumbustious tenor sax solo from Stone-Lonergan and continued to see him bouncing ideas off the irrepressible Wells. The interplay between Myer and Wells was equally robust, with both also delivering excellent individual features.

The pronunciation of the trio’s name has been a matter of some debate, but to set the record straight it’s actually pronounced “Cow”, as is the Dewey Redman tune from which the band’s moniker derives. There’s a whole other debate about what the title of Redman’s tune “QOW” actually means; it could refer to the military acronym ‘Quality of Work’ or could just be a reference to the fact that Redman came from the state of Texas, where there are a lot of cows!
Whatever, tonight’s performance of the trio’s signature tune was introduced by Wells at the drums, the rolling thunder of his polyrhythmic grooves later providing the foundation for Stone-Lonergan’s powerful tenor sax soloing as the younger man channelled something of the spirit of Redman. Subsequently Wells’ colourful extended drum feature was shadowed by Myers’ arco bass drone.

Having established something of a bovine mindstate the trio closed with their version of a Johnny Mercer song that had been transformed by Sonny Rollins on the latter’s classic 1957 album “Way Out West”. In the hands of tonight’s trio the song has been rebadged as “I’m An Old Qowhand” and appears as a ‘bonus track’ on the CD edition of the new album. Introduced by Wells at the drums the trio’s playful version included some scintillating collective interplay plus excellent individual features from all three musicians.

The music of QOW TRIO, with its fascinating blend of swing, bebop and free jazz, was very well received by the Cheltenham audience, who appreciated both the skill of the musicianship and also the sense of fun and joyousness that the members of the trio brought to their playing. This was music that was fluid and constantly mutating, the musicians sparking off each other in a way that also engaged the listener.

Wells did occasionally threaten to overwhelm his colleagues and I’d have liked to have heard a few more of Stone-Lonergan’s originals, although I do appreciate that I may have been in a minority in that regard.

As I’ve said the saxophonist’s compositions are rooted in the saxophone trio tradition and they are particularly suited to QOW TRIO’s style. The inclusion of a few more of these would not have been at all out of place and they sound thoroughly convincing in the context of the new album.

My thanks to Eddie, Riley and Spike for speaking with me after the gig. I’d met Eddie in a journalistic capacity before but this was the first time that I’d actually seen him play. I was hugely impressed, as I was with his colleagues.

On the evidence of tonight’s performance QOW TRIO looks to be a project with plenty more miles in it.

“The Hold Up” was released on Ubuntu Music in January 2024 and in addition to the pieces performed tonight also includes three other original compositions by Stone-Lonergan, “High Noon”, “I Gotta a Grape Drink” and “Bastard Gentlemen”. The album also features a Stone-Lonergan arrangement of the Stephen Foster song “Hard Times Come No More”, plus a version of Kenny Dorham’s “Straight Ahead”.

Like its predecessor “The Hold Up” is highly recommended.

“The Hold Up” -  Full track listing;

High Noon 04:16

The Hold Up 05:09


I Gotta Grape Drink 04:41


The Starcrossed Lovers 03:40

Along Came John 05:29


Hip Strut 07:10


Our Man Higgins 04:49


Bastard Gentlemen 03:58


Bright Mississippi 04:44


Hard Times Come Again No More 02:38


Straight Ahead 02:47


I’m An Old Qowhand 03:28

QOW TRIO’s recordings are available here;



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