Winner of the Parliamentary Jazz Award for Best Media, 2019


Trish Clowes & Ross Stanley

Journey to Where

by Ian Mann

April 19, 2024


There are a number of tenor sax / piano duo recordings out there, but “Journey to Where” ranks as one of the best and one of the most distinctive.

Trish Clowes & Ross Stanley

“Journey to Where”

(Stoney Lane Records SLR1989)

Trish Clowes – tenor saxophone, Ross Stanley – piano

Saxophonist Trish Clowes and keyboard player Ross Stanley are long time musical associates, with Stanley a current member of Clowes’ regular working group My Iris. Named after Clowes’ inspirational grandmother the group, which also includes guitarist Chris Montague and drummer Joel Barford,  made its début in 2017 with the “My Iris” album, this followed by “Ninety Degrees Gravity” (2019) and the exceptional “A View with a Room”  (2022).

The Jazzmann has taken a look at all three albums, sometimes in conjunction with one of the group’s live performances, and has also examined Clowes’ earlier works “Tangent” (2011), “and in the night time she is there” (2012) and “Pocket Compass” (2014) .

A former BBC New Generation Artist Clowes has regularly explored music at the jazz / contemporary classical interface and has worked together with musicians from both worlds. Her interest in the merging of musical genres has been expressed both through her recordings and through her co-ordination of the festival series Emulsion, which has brought together musicians from different genres to collaborate on original material, much of it specifically commissioned for the Festival. Emulsion Festival events have taken place in Birmingham, London and Clowes’ home town of Shrewsbury, while the Emulsion Sinfonietta, an ensemble assembled specifically for the series, has also performed at Cheltenham Music Festival, appearing alongside the Food Duo of saxophonist Iain Ballamy (one of Clowes’ mentors) and drummer and electronic musician Thomas Stronen. Several Emulsion related events are also covered elsewhere on The Jazzmann.

Clowes has also written for  the London Sinfonietta, National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain (for the BBC Proms 2022), Orchestra of the Swan and BBC Radio 3.

Clowes’ career has been distinguished by a willingness to experiment and by consistent artistic growth, qualities that have attracted the attention of the American trumpeter, composer and record label Dave Douglas. “A View with a Room” appears on Douglas’ Greenleaf Music imprint and Douglas is due to appear with My Iris on a short UK and Ireland tour at the beginning of May 2024 under the project name ‘Eyes Up’. The schedule will include an appearance at Cheltenham Jazz Festival.

Like Clowes the versatile Stanley has appeared on the Jazzmann web pages on multiple occasions across a dizzying variety of jazz genres and beyond. Equally adept on organ and piano Stanley is one of the UK’s most in demand Hammond players and is almost perpetually busy working as a sideman with far too many names to list in full here. He’s perhaps less well known as a pianist but his playing in this capacity has also graced many recordings and even more live shows.

Something of a ‘musician’s musician’ Stanley has rarely recorded under his own name. The only example I know of is “Tortugas”, an enjoyable if somewhat low key duo recording made with guitarist Chris Allard and released on Perdido Records in 2022. The album sees Stanley specialising on piano (as here) and features a mix of jazz standards and Allard originals. My review of the album, which also incorporates a list of some of those famous names Stanley has worked with, can be found here;

Clowes and Stanley have been working as a duo for a number of years and their repertoire reflects their shared interest in both the jazz and classical traditions plus a common love traditional folk music. The have made a number of prestigious festival performances, including one appearance at London’s Royal Festival Hall that saw Stanley making use of the venue’s mighty pipe organ.

“Journey to Where” was recorded over the course of two days in July 2021 at that famous London venue the Wigmore Hall. Primarily a classical music establishment the Wigmore has previously hosted jazz. I recall seeing Swedish bassist Lars Danielsson and his Liberetto group there as part of the 2019 EFG London Jazz Festival, a performance reviewed elsewhere on this site. I even remember the rock musician Peter Hammill, of Van Der Graaf Generator fame, playing a solo show there back in the 1970s.

The Clowes / Stanley sessions were recorded at a time when major roadworks were taking place outside the venue; hence, perhaps, its availability, although having said that it should be remembered that Clowes is an associate artist of Wigmore Hall. In their album notes the duo are quick to praise the efforts of engineer Chris Kelly who was able to screen out the traffic noise, ultimately achieving an excellent sound mix.

The duo dedicate the recording to two of their musical heroes, Clowes choosing the American saxophonist and composer Wayne Shorter and Stanley the British pianist, composer and educator John Taylor.

Clowes says of the recording;
“This is the first time Ross has released his own music on a recording, and I think it’s the first time I’ve recorded standards for one of my own albums too. We decided to start developing music that was distinct from other playing contexts, so we could record an album that had a mixture of our own tunes, amongst some important music for both of us.”

The album commences with Stanley’s composition “Ashford Days”, which he dedicates to the memory of John Taylor. Stanley says of his tune and of Taylor;
 “He continues to be a constant source of inspiration for me.  We share a great love for Bill Evans and also certain aspects of the classical repertoire (although the comparisons probably end there!). It always intrigued me how John developed his playing over the years into an instantly recognisable voice on the piano. The title is a nod to John’s ‘Ambleside Days’ and also Ashford, in Kent, where he lived for a period.”
The piece was actually played at an exceptional performance by the My Iris group at The Hive in Shrewsbury in May 2022, with Stanley featuring on Hammond. The duo performance inevitably sounds very different but retains the upbeat feel of the group performance, this is very much a celebration of Taylor’s life and music, rather than a lament. There’s a bucolic quality about the music that recalls “Ambleside Days” itself, and I’m also reminded of Taylor’s duo recordings with saxophonists Stan Sulzmann and Julian Arguelles. Both Stanley and Clowes perform with a relaxed fluency, selflessly sharing the lead, and the musical rapport that they have developed over the course of the last seven years is palpable. There are no egos here, this is very much an equal partnership with the musicians taking it in turns to share the lead, the ‘solo’ episodes inevitably including lucid passages of unaccompanied piano.

Stanley’s tribute to Taylor is followed by Clowes’ to Shorter, in the form of her original composition “Decently Ripped”. “I have it from a reliable source that ‘decently ripped’ was a nickname of Wayne’s, owing to his calm demeanour at after-show events back in the day”, she explains. The piece also draws inspiration from Shorter’s own playing on a 1965 bootleg recording captured at the famous New York City jazz club the Village Vanguard. The intro sees Stanley responding to Clowes’ saxophone phrases before the two come together on a bebop inspired theme that sees the pair continuing to exchange ideas in vivacious fashion. Again it’s a celebration of a life well lived, less pastoral than Stanley’s piece but again an apt reflection of its subject, in this case the more playful side of the late, great Shorter.

The duo investigate the more romantic side of Latin music with their lyrical interpretation of “Tres Palabras”, written by the Cuban composer Osvaldo Farres. Clowes’ warm tenor sound is complemented by the clarity of Stanley’s piano playing as he demonstrates an impressive command of Latin timbres and rhythms.

The pianist’s second original composition is “Avoidance”, which actually commences with the sound of unaccompanied tenor sax.  Stanley’s response again emphasises the playful sound of the duo, but there’s also an underlying lyricism that characterises this delightfully relaxed duo performance. The composer is particularly impressive on a passage of flowingly lyrical solo piano, bolstered by a sturdy left hand rhythmic underpinning. Clowes is no less impressive on a fluently expansive tenor solo, again skilfully supported by Stanley.

There’s a return to the standards repertoire with Duke Ellington’s “Prelude To A Kiss”, with the duo adopting an adventurous and contemporary approach to the tune. The playing is gently exploratory, but without compromising the essentially romantic nature of the piece.  It’s a genuine musical conversation, warm and intimate.

Stanley trained as an organ scholar at Marlborough College and two of his choices reflect this, the first of these being Marcel Dupre’s “Trois Preludes et Fugues, Op. 7 No. 3, Prelude in G Minor”.  The other is “Gloucester Service” by Herbert Howells.
Stanley says of these organ works;
“I remember being mesmerized by the harmonies, particularly when hearing them in the wonderful acoustics of a church. The unique acoustics at Wigmore Hall are the perfect environment in which to record them”.

Although played on piano and saxophone the duo’s rendition of the Dupre work brings out its full beauty and majesty, whilst also acting as a reminder that much church organ music is actually improvised. The performance moves through a series of distinct phases incorporating different moods and dynamics, with the focus moving between saxophone and piano. It’s another masterful demonstration of duo playing and a seamless melding of classical and jazz elements and influences.

The most radical piece is Clowes’ original “Sarah”, also the album’s lengthiest track. Named for the vaccinologist Sarah Gilbert the composition was written in the immediate aftermath of the Covid lockdowns and seems to depict the eventual re-emergence of society after the pandemic. The piece begins in sombre fashion with Clowes deploying multi-phonics, a technique she had also briefly flirted with on the Ellington piece. The growling extended techniques soon give way to more conventional playing and an extended saxophone led passage adroitly supported by Stanley, who eventually takes over at the piano, his solo distinguished by an ongoing rhythmic drive. A reprise of the intro, including the return of the multi-phonics, serves to remind us that the eventual return to comparative normality wasn’t all plain sailing; but all is eventually resolved by way of a gently lyrical improvised closing section.

The second of the organ works, Herbert Howells’ “Gloucester Service”, features the duo at their most stately. Initially there’s a hymn like quality about the music as Clowes tenor replicates the timbres of the organ, but as the performance progresses a more joyous, recognisably jazz quality informs the music, with Clowes soloing fluently, her tone now light and airy. Stanley’s solo piano passage exhibits similar qualities. The piece then comes full circle with the ending again exhibiting a kind of sacred solemnity.

The album concludes with the duo’s radical instrumental interpretation of the traditional folk song “The Month of January”. A sparse sombre intro re-introduces the use of multi-phonics and expresses the bleak melancholy of mid winter, with Stanley’s piano sounding suitably glacial. The duo’s subsequent exchanges feature some of the most loosely structured playing on the album, one can almost sense the pair listening to each other. As the piece progresses the music becomes more melodic, tender and lyrical, suggesting the eventual coming of spring.

There are a number of tenor sax / piano duo recordings out there, but “Journey to Where” ranks as one of the best and one of the most distinctive. The diverse and eclectic range of material is a major factor with the duo exploring aspects of the jazz, folk and classical traditions as well as providing some first rate original material that further establishes their credentials as composers. There is an easy and instinctive rapport between the two musicians, but they also challenge each other in subtle ways throughout the recording. The standard of the musicianship is exceptional throughout and the playing is further enhanced by the clarity of Kelly’s sound mix, which captures all the subtleties and nuances of the playing. A word too for the distinctive artwork of Triona Milne, which adds to a very classy production from the Birmingham based Stoney Lane record label.

blog comments powered by Disqus