Winner of the Parliamentary Jazz Award for Best Media, 2019


Philip Clouts Quartet

The Hour of Pearl


by Ian Mann

September 25, 2013


A characteristic mix of strong melodies allied to Clouts' extensive knowledge of global jazz styles. Well written, attractively melodic, stylistically varied and superbly played.

Philip Clouts Quartet

“The Hour Of Pearl”

(Point Records PCD026)

The new quartet album from pianist and composer Philip Clouts builds on the success of 2010’s “Sennen Cove”, a consistently melodic recording that covered an impressive variety of jazz styles. For this latest offering Clouts has selected a broadly similar personnel with alto/soprano saxophonist Carlos Lopez-Real and bassist Alex Keen returning from the previous record and with new boy Jon Desbruslais taking over from Paul Cavacuiti at the drums.

Originally from South Africa Clouts has lived in the UK for many years and enjoyed a lengthy stint with the fondly remembered Zubop, a world jazz group with a particular affinity for the music of the Gambia. Now based in Lyme Regis in the South West of England Clouts’ previous two albums “Direction South” and “Sennen Cove” have drawn their inspiration from the land and seascapes of Clouts’ adopted home. There’s more of that here but “The Hour Of Pearl” actually derives its title from a poetic extract from John Steinbeck’s novel “Cannery Row”.

The music is a characteristic mix of strong melodies allied to Clouts’ extensive knowledge of global jazz styles. It’s an appealing combination and “The Hour Of Pearl” represents a well programmed album full of strong compositions with a unified group sound that transcends Clouts’ many influences. As on the previous two albums there’s a distinct cinematic and narrative quality about many of the pieces and a profound sense of place.  Meanwhile the extensive liner notes by Selwyn Harris of Jazzwise offer an invaluable insight into the creative processes involved in the eight Clouts originals that make up the album.

The opening “Riptide” begins with Lopez-Real’s sax melody above Clouts’ modal piano chording, the saxophonist subsequently stretching out and probing delicately above Desbruslais’ quietly colourful drum and percussion undertow. Clouts’ own solo adds an element of the blues and introduces a distinctive pattern of block chords. Harris’ notes speak of the influence of Indian music, apparently the initial melody was first conceived by Clouts singing above a fixed drone played on harmonium,  the tune subsequently being developed into a more obviously jazz composition.

Steinbeck’s writing is an indirect influence on the next item, the joyous gospel flavoured “On West Hill”. The author’s musings on the subject of “being at home” helped to inspire this piece, the title a reference to a street in Lyme Regis. The music has something of the feel of one of Keith Jarrett’s “country blues” compositions of the 1970’s with Lopez-Real exalting on alto, Clouts sounding suitably percussive and authentically “gospelly”  on piano and with a short cameo from bassist Alex Keen.

The theme of “Delta” is the inter-connectedness between the various musical cultures across the world. Clouts cites the example of the Cuban guaguanco rhythm which travelled travelled with the Abakua people from the Cross River Delta area of Nigeria. Lopez-Real’s sinuous soprano snakes above Clouts’ modal piano patterns and Desbruslais’ Cuban rhythms. The drummer also plays in Latin bands such as Viva La Revolucion! And Son de Cuba and his command of Latin styles and rhythms is immediately apparent here. Clouts’ solo is pleasingly expansive and presages a sudden change of pace into a more exuberant second section with Lopez Real taking a second bite of the cherry prior to Desbruslais’ effervescent drum and percussion solo. Finally the opening modal melody returns on this near ten minute piece, arguably the focal point of the album.

Drums and bass begin “Flamingo-ing”, an infectiously catchy piece reminiscent of a Sonny Rollins
calypso such as the eternally popular “St. Thomas”. Clouts solo is positively joyous despite the injection of some tricky time signatures and with Lopez-Real also in inspired form the piece packs an irresistible charm. 

The title track takes its inspiration from the Steinbeck passage that defines “The Hour of Pearl” as “the grey time after the light has come and before the sun has risen…a time of great peace, a deserted time, a little era of rest…the interval between day and night when time stops and examines itself”. Clouts and his colleagues capture this essence through a folk inspired melody that again recalls Jarrett’s collaborations with Jan Garbarek. Although the piece embraces the ethereal this is no “mists and mountains” cliché, there’s also an earthy air of celebration about this music which is embodied in the joyousness of the playing. 

Although born in South Africa Clouts’ roots are Jewish and these find expression in the subtle klezmer flavourings of “Clef Mona”. Lopez-Real dances lightly on soprano and Clouts’ expansive and ultimately exuberant solo is a joyous affirmation of his origins. 

“As Evening Falls” is a perfect mood piece which Clouts cites as being inspired by “Italian film music of the 1960’s”. Cool and sophisticated it shimmers on the horizon with keening sax supported by unobtrusive piano chording and Desbruslais’ subtly brushed drum undertow. Clouts’ own solo features the pianist at his most lyrical and there’s a similarly effective bass solo from Keen.

The album closes with “Nyasa Lullaby” which first appeared on Clouts’ 2004 piano trio album “Direction South”. It has since become a live favourite at quartet gigs with Desbruslais’ exotic percussion combining with Lopez-Real’s hypnotically probing, squiggling soprano, this combination underpinned by the leader’s sparse but compulsive piano chording.

Immaculately recorded by Derek Nash “The Hour of Pearl” is a worthy addition to the Clouts canon, well written, attractively melodic, stylistically varied and superbly played. The quartet will be touring the UK during October and November 2013. Catch them if you can. 

  Tour Dates

1 October St Ives Jazz Club St Ives
3 October The Old Duke Bristol
4 October Bridport Arts Centre Bridport
9 October Queens Head Monmouth
10 October Players Theatre Davenham
11 October Number 39 Darwen
12 October Marsden Jazz Festival Marsden
19 October Marine Theatre Lyme Regis
9 November (1pm) Pizza Express Dean Street London Album Launch
17 November (2.30pm) Teignmouth Jazz Festival Teignmouth
17 November (8pm)  St Lawrence Chapel,  Ashburton, Devon.

Further information at

blog comments powered by Disqus