by Ian Mann
May 17, 2022
Ian Mann enjoys an exceptional live performance by saxophonist and composer Trish Clowes and her My Iris quartet. He also takes a look at her magnificent new album "A View with a Room".
Trish Clowes, My Iris, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 14/05/2022
Trish Clowes – tenor saxophone, Chris Montague – guitar, Ross Stanley – Hammond organ, James Maddren – drums
Tonight’s performance represented a triumphant homecoming gig for saxophonist and composer Trish Clowes.
Shrewsbury born but now London based Clowes made a brief return to her original hometown as part of the still ongoing tour in support of her magnificent new album “A View with a Room”, recorded for Greenleaf Music, the label founded by the great American trumpeter and composer Dave Douglas. It represents quite a ‘feather in the cap’ for Clowes to be the first British musician to have been signed by Douglas’ imprint.
“A View with a Room” is the third album from Clowes’ regular working quartet My Iris, the band named after Clowes’ inspirational grandmother. The group made its début in 2017 with the “My Iris” album, this followed by “Ninety Degrees Gravity” in 2019.
Montague and Maddren are long time associates of Clowes and have also appeared on the previous releases “Tangent” (2011), “and in the night time she is there” (2012) and “Pocket Compass” (2014), all issued by the UK label Basho Records.
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 often contained elements of both genres, with Clowes collaborating with a range of musicians drawn from both the jazz and classical fields.
I have seen Clowes perform in Shrewsbury on several previous occasions, all of these appearances taking place at the Gateway Arts & Education Centre elsewhere in the town. In truth these events, including the sixth edition of the Emulsion Festival in 2018, were rather sparsely attended, mainly due to a lack of advertising.
Amazingly this was Clowes’ first performance at The Hive, the regular home of promoters Shrewsbury Jazz Network. With the SJN publicity machine in full swing tonight’s attendance was close to a sell out as Clowes’ and her colleagues performed in front of a knowledgeable and highly supportive audience.
The majority of the material came from the latest recording with every track from “A View with a Room” being played, although not strictly in the album running order. Inevitably the album, which was recorded during August and September 2021 was influenced by the Covid crisis as Clowes has explained;
“Many of the tracks make direct reference to issues created and exacerbated by the global pandemic, commenting on personal loss and creativity as solace, the climate crisis and the ever growing migrant crisis”.
The performance commenced with “A View with a Room” itself, which also opens the new album. Clowes has described the piece as representing “a surreal, and yet strangely relatable concept, concept, forced upon much of the world during these deeply isolating times”.
Ushered in by Maddren at the drums the piece featured edgy, darting melodic motifs and bustling grooves, these inspiring fluent solos from Clowes on tenor, Stanley on organ and finally Montague on guitar. Like much of the material on the new album the music had more of a hard driving, urban feel than much of Clowes’ previous output. The decision move to a New York based label appears to have been reflected in the group’s music.
Also from the new album “Time” was introduced by Stanley at the organ, a Hammond XK5, one of the new generation Hammond models. It should be noted that Stanley played organ throughout tonight’s performance, the recording also features him extensively on acoustic piano, plus a sprinkling of Fender Rhodes. A more lyrical piece this featured unison sax and guitar melody lines, with the band members eventually diverging to make individual solo statements, Montague going first on guitar, followed by Stanley on Hammond and Clowes on tenor.
From the “Ninety Degrees Gravity” album came the tune “Abbott & Costello”, named apparently for two characters in Denis Villeneuve’s science fiction film ‘Arrival’ (as opposed to the American comedy duo). Again ushered in by Stanley at the Hammond this featured a tapestry of interweaving melody lines from organ, sax and guitar, these underpinned by Maddren’s flexible drum grooves. Clowes took the first solo on tenor before Stanley put the Hammond through its paces, soaring into the instrument’s higher registers before generating a genuinely anthemic swell, topped by Montague’s spiralling guitar and Maddren’s dynamic drumming. A video featuring this tune, made by photographer and film maker Rose Hendry can be found on Clowes’ website; https://trishclowes.com/my-iris/
The quartet returned to the new album for “No Idea”, another piece distinguished by its complex unison melody lines. Montague took the first solo, his guitar engaging in a lively dialogue with Maddren’s brushed drums. Clowes’ tenor solo received the support of the whole band as the music gathered momentum. This was a piece that was actually full of ideas and which was possessed of many twists and turns. Stanley’s organ solo was an altogether more atmospheric affair, sympathetically supported by the sounds of brushed drums, ‘guitar bass’ and rushes of breath through Clowes’ tenor. In this bass-less ensemble the ‘low end’ duties were shared between organ and guitar, with each proving a more than effective substitute.
The atmospherics continued on “Almost”, the closing track from the new album. This was introduced by a passage of unaccompanied tenor sax, with Clowes later joined by Montague’s guitar shadings, Stanley’s organ drone and Maddren’s mallet rumbles. Montague’s solo saw him making judicious use of his range of effects pedals before he handed over to Clowes on wispy tenor.
Conscious of not wanting to end the first half on such a subdued note Clowes’ passed the compositional reins to Stanley for “Ashford Days”, a dedication to the late, great pianist, and occasional organist, John Taylor. The title is a homage to Taylor’s own composition “Ambleside Days” and the fact that Taylor himself had eventually settled in Ashford, Kent. Introduced by the composer at the Hammond this was a breezy, upbeat piece that was most definitely a celebration of Taylor’s life and work. With rousing solos from Stanley, Clowes and Montague it brought this excellent first set to an exciting close. I don’t think Stanley’s piece has ever been recorded, hopefully he will get the chance to do so.
The second set commenced with a return to material from the new My Iris album. “The Ness” was written as a response to images and sounds captured by Hendry along the East Neuk of Fife coastline in Scotland. Introduced by a series of guitar and sax exchanges this piece featured solos from Clowes on tenor and Stanley on Hammond, these followed by a series of sax and organ exchanges. The performance concluded with a long, slow, atmospheric fade – the recorded version also features the sounds of waves lapping the seashore, these presumably recorded by Hendry.
From the new record Clowes’ dedicates the composition “Ayana” to Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, who she describes as “an inspiring writer, marine biologist and policy expert, who speaks clearly and positively on the issues of climate change”. Tonight’s performance began with a dialogue between the leader’s tenor and Maddren’s brushed drums, his deft cymbal embellishments complementing the plaintive, Garbarek like sounds of Clowes’ sax. Softly scurrying guitar and organ arpeggios simulated the movement of fish and other marine life as the piece unfolded gently, evoking images of the beauty of the ocean depths. With its liquid sax and guitar melodies this piece represents one of Clowes’ most evocative compositions.
“Amber”, another dedication followed. This time the piece is named for Amber Bauer, the CEO of the Donate4Refugees charity, an institution that Clowes acts as an ambassador for. The composition is intended to reflect Bauer’s “energy and dynamism” and tonight’s rendition did just that. A quirky introduction that reminded me of the post Loose Tubes work of Django Bates, Iain Ballamy and Julian Arguelles developed into a vibrant, highly rhythmic piece propelled by Maddren’s drums and the bass lines of both organ and guitar. Powerful solos came from Clowes on tenor and Stanley on organ, the latter positively blazing on the Hammond.
By way of contrast “Morning Song”, also from the new album, was a contemporary ballad that featured thoughtful sax melodies, church like organ timbres and the sound of brushed drums, with lyrical solos from Stanley, Clowes and Montague.
A shorter second set concluded with “Free to Fall”, a tune from the “Ninety Degrees Gravity” album. This was an episodic piece that began in gently atmospheric fashion with the sounds of sax, guitar and organ as Maddren temporarily sat out. Folk like melodic motifs eventually developed into something much more powerful. Montague dropped out as Clowes delivered a powerful solo, backed by just organ and drums. Montague subsequently made up for lost time with an animated series of exchanges with Maddren’s drums that also introduced an element of humour to the proceedings. The piece then concluded with another of those long, atmospheric fades, a favourite Clowes compositional device.
Following a performance of this skill and quality an encore was inevitable. This was “Shirley”, a composition named for Clowes’ saxophone, which she has christened Shirley. The tune appears on the digital only release “My Iris Live”, which was first issued in April 2020 and is still available via Bandcamp here;
This was a gentle piece that had something of the feel of a jazz standard, and which rounded off the evening perfectly, with concise solos coming from Clowes, Montague and Stanley.
I’ve seen many performances from Clowes over the years, including a memorable show at The Barbican when My Iris supported bassist Avishai Cohen’s trio at the 2018 EFG London Jazz Festival. Nevertheless tonight has to rank as the best yet. My Iris is now well established as a band and the rapport between the group members is exceptional. Always an ambitious and inquisitive writer Clowes’ compositions for the new album represent her most cohesive collection of pieces to date and we were privileged to hear all of them tonight, alongside a smattering of tunes from previous My Iris recordings.
“A View with a Room” is highly recommended, although the recording sounds substantially different to tonight’s performance, mainly thanks to the use of piano on many of the tracks. For me it represents Clowes’ most mature and most impressive album to date.
The current tour is due to visit;
17th - Worksop Library, Nottinghamshire (Jazz Steps)
18th – Southwell Library, Nottinghamshire (Jazz Steps)
19th – West Bridgford Library, Nottinghamshire (Jazz Steps)
26th – Jazz House, Leicester
27th – Blue Arrow Club, Glasgow
More information at; http://www.trishclowes.comblog comments powered by Disqus