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Trish Clowes’ My Iris

Trish Clowes’ My Iris, Gateway Arts & Education Centre, Shrewsbury, 01/05/2019.


by Ian Mann

May 02, 2019


Ian Mann enjoys the first night of a tour by saxophonist and composer Trish Clowes' My Iris quartet and takes a look at their new album "Ninety Degrees Gravity".

Trish Cowes, My Iris, Gateway Arts & Education Centre Shrewsbury, 01.05/2019.

Trish Clowes – tenor saxophone, voice, composer Chris Montague – guitar, Matt Robinson – piano and keyboard, James Maddren - drums

Tonight was the first date of a short UK tour by saxophonist and composer Trish Clowes’ regular working group, a quartet now known by the band name My Iris.

The tour is being undertaken in support of Clowes’ recent album release “Ninety Degrees Gravity”, her fifth to date, and all issued on the Basho label. It follows “Tangent” (2011), “and in the night time she is there” (2012), “Pocket Compass” (2014) and “My Iris” (2017). To these ears each of these albums has represented an artistic progression with “My Iris” representing Clowes’ most consistently satisfying and accessible release thus far.

A former BBC Radio 3 New Generations Artist Clowes has a foot in both the jazz and classical music traditions and has co-ordinated seven editions of the boundary crossing Emulsion new music festival, presenting her brainchild at events in London, Birmingham and her native Shrewsbury. During her studies on the Jazz Course at the Royal Academy of Music Clowes regularly associated and played with students on the classical courses. Her recordings have all contained elements of both genres, with Clowes collaborating with a range of musicians drawn from both the jazz and classical fields.

“Ninety Degrees Gravity” features the same quartet that appeared on her previous release “My Iris”, the title of that recording now having been adopted as a band name. The two recordings feature Clowes, Montague, Maddren and Ross Stanley on piano and Hammond organ.

For tonight’s show Stanley was unavailable and his place was taken by Matt Robinson on the Gateway’s grand piano and his own Nord keyboard. Robinson had appeared in Shrewsbury earlier in the year at the nearby Hive Arts Centre as a member of saxophonist Duncan Eagles’ ‘Citizen’ quintet. He is also a key component of the high powered Flying Machines quintet led by guitarist and composer Alex Munk, who himself has previously ‘depped’ for Montague in Clowes’ groups.

The last time that I saw the My Iris quartet perform live was at the Barbican Centre in London as part of the 2018 EFG London Jazz Festival. Playing the as yet unreleased “Ninety Degrees Gravity” material the group were given a rapturous reception by a near 2000 crowd as they supported New York – Israeli bassist Avishai Cohen and his trio, winning a lot of new fans in the process.

Numbers were more modest for this homecoming gig but for Clowes there plenty of friends and family in an audience of around forty or so in the Gateway’s main performance room.

Over the course of two sets the My Iris quartet performed the majority of the “Ninety Degrees Gravity” material whilst also dipping into Clowes’ back catalogue and even premièring two newly written pieces.

The evening commenced with the tune “Lightning Les” from the new album. Named after the Leslie speaker used in conjunction with Stanley’s Hammond the piece did rather miss the presence of Stanley’s B3, or ‘The Big Beast’, as I like to call it. Nevertheless there was still plenty to enjoy with Robinson acquitting himself well as he soloed on the Nord, but adopting an electric piano rather than organ sound. Clowes herself, tonight specialising solely on tenor, soloed at length, subtly shadowed by Montague’s guitar. Montague himself then cut loose with a feverish solo as Clowes added harmolodic, avant garde flourishes on tenor and also made judicious use of echo effects.

Also from the new recording “Abbott & Costello” was inspired by characters from director Denis Villeneuve’s 2016 sci-fi film “Arrival”, itself based on the 1998 short story by Ted Chiang “Story of Your Life”. The film is also the source of the album title “Ninety Degrees Gravity”.
Here the piece was introduced by Maddren’s drums,  his drum patterns seemingly picked up by Montague’s spidery guitar and the leader’s melodic tenor sax. Clowes then soloed at length, followed by Robinson on grand piano.

“I Can’t Find My Other Brush” takes its title from a remark made by Maddren during a power cut in the middle of a gig.  With its slippery theme, nodding to the bebop pioneers and to Ornette Coleman, this is one of Clowes’ most energetic pieces and here saw the leader stretching out on tenor with an expansive solo. She was followed by Robinson on grand piano and Montague on guitar, the latter’s playing exhibiting something of a rock influence. Previous performances of this tune have seen Maddren eschewing brushes entirely. Here he contributed some vigorous brush work in the tune’s early stages, before eventually switching to sticks. The recorded version of the piece can be heard on the “My Iris” album.

Clowes is a musician who never stands still. “Ninety Degrees Gravity” may only just have been released but Clowes is already looking forward to the next project. She has previously dedicated tunes to saxophonist Wayne Shorter and drummer Eric Gravatt, plus her band mates, “all guys, basically” she explained “so I thought I’d better write some tunes dedicated to women”. The first of these was “Norma”, inspired by a poem written by guitarist Mike Walker and dedicated to the peerless vocalist and lyricist Norma Winstone. Essentially this was a ballad, introduced by the sound of unaccompanied tenor sax with Clowes’ playing soft and breathy, setting the tone and mood for the piece. Song like in construction the tune also included a thoughtful and lyrical piano solo from Robinson and some genuinely sensitive brushwork from Maddren.

The first set concluded with “Eric’s Tune”, Clowes’ dedication to former Weather Report member Gravatt, which raised the energy levels again with its powerful tenor led riffing and bright, crisp drumming. Extended solos came from Montague on guitar, Clowes on tenor and Robinson on electric piano.

Set two began with a segue of tunes old and new, “One Hour” from the “My Iris” album and “Arise” from the new recording. “One Hour” represents a paean to “the extra hour of dreaming you get when the clocks go back” and began here with Clowes at her most Garbarek like, the incisive purity of her tone enhanced by Maddren’s atmospheric cymbal work and Montague’s layered guitar textures.
Its prog like cadences led to expansive solos from Clowes and Montague with Robinson’s acoustic piano passage providing the bridge into the following “Arise”, a gentler more freely structured piece characterised by the dialogue between saxophone and piano.

“Amber” was the second of the new dedications with Clowes devoting the piece to Amber Bauer, the founder of the Donate4Refugees charity, for whom Clowes is an ambassador. With its quirky staccato phrases this was a lot less gentle than its companion “Norma” piece, a reflection perhaps of the turbulent world in which Bauer works. The soloing here from Clowes on tenor, Robinson on electric piano and Montague on guitar was particularly powerful, the latter’s playing a winning combination of rock rawness and jazz sophistication.

From the new album “I.F.” is dedicated to the young sons of two of Clowes’ band members, one year old Idris Stanley and three year old Finlay Montague. Introduced by Robinson on twinkling electric piano the piece also included some subtle wordless vocalising by Clowes plus the sampled voices of the two children. Proud father Montague shared the instrumental solos with the leader’s tenor.

To close we heard “Free to Fall”, another composition from the new album and one dedicated to Clowes’ three band mates. Again ushered in by Robinson’s Nord the piece featured Clowes singing the lyrics of the poem “Free to Fall” that adorns the album cover. A paean to the creative and improvisatory processes the title is a nod to the Wayne Shorter album “Without A Net”. In many respects the song represents the centre piece of the new album with Clowes and Montague both contributing powerful solos here. Indeed on the evidence of tonight’s performance Clowes appears to be playing with greater fluency and authority than ever.

Tonight represented a highly successful start to the new tour in front of a supportive home town audience. I can’t pretend that I didn’t miss Stanley and his Hammond but nevertheless Robinson acquitted himself very well, doubling up on piano and keyboard and negotiating the demands of Clowes’ often complex writing with aplomb. It was a pleasure to speak with him afterwards along with the other members of the band.

The new album “Ninety Degrees Gravity” represents another worthy addition to the Clowes canon, building upon the success of its predecessor as My Iris continues to mature as a band. Six of the album’s seven pieces were played tonight, the exception being “Dustlings”, the closing piece and a second dedication to Eric Gravatt. It’s a duet between Clowes on tenor and Stanley on piano that represents an intimate coda to an otherwise typically dense and complex Clowes album.

The inclusion of two as yet unrecorded pieces tonight helped to confirm the fact that Clowes is one of the UK’s most ambitious and broad minded jazz musicians, her inspirations embracing a variety of musical genres in addition to poetry, literature, science and the visual arts. With My Iris these myriad influences continue to cohere into an increasingly mature and convincing whole and “Ninety Degrees Gravity” is highly recommended.

The remaining dates of the current tour are as follows;

2nd May 2019 – Band On The Wall, Manchester

7th May 2019 – Pizza Express Jazz Club, Soho, London, Official Album Launch

8th May 2019 – The Sage, Gateshead

6th June 2019 -  Bonington Theatre, Nottingham

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