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Trish Clowes

Trish Clowes Quartet, The Gateway Arts Centre, Shrewsbury, 18/01/2017.

Photography: Photograph sourced from [url=][/url]

by Ian Mann

January 23, 2017


A highly successful home town gig for the saxophonist and composer.

Trish Cowes Quartet, Gateway Arts Centre, Shrewsbury, 18/01/2017.

Saxophonist and composer Trish Clowes is currently leading her quartet on a national tour in support of her latest album “My Iris”, her fourth recording as a leader. The album is reviewed elsewhere on this site and to these ears is Clowes’ most consistent and satisfying work to date.

Clowes’ previous albums, like “My Iris” all released on Basho Records, seek to explore the hinterland where jazz and classical music meet and include collaborations with string quartets and full orchestras as well as contributions from Clowes’ regular jazz quartet.

In a sense “My Iris” represents Clowes going back to basics with every note being played by her regular working quartet. The group includes guitarist Chris Montague and drummer James Maddren who appear on all four albums. And yet there’s the feeling that this is a new band with pianist/organist Ross Stanley joining the quartet in place of double bassist Calum Gourlay. Clowes has featured keyboards on her albums before with illustrious guest Gwilym Simcock fulfilling the role. Simcock has also performed live with Clowes’ groups but this phenomenally busy musician was always unlikely to become a regular fixture.

The presence of Stanley brings a new dynamic to the group, his keyboards adding extra colour and texture to the quartet format. His recruitment has resulted in Clowes’ most obviously ‘jazz’ album thus far, one that includes some of her most engaging compositions.

Tonight’s performance represented a homecoming for Clowes ,who was born in Shrewsbury and whose parents still live in the town. The saxophonist usually tries to include a home town date when she tours and I recall seeing her in this same venue back in 2014 with the Montague/Maddren/Gourlay version of her quartet.

This evening’s show took place in a different room which gave Stanley access to the venue’s grand piano. He’d also brought along his splendid Hammond B3 plus Leslie speaker cabinet, a real bonus for those organ fans amongst us. The turnout tonight was larger than I remember last time round with between 50-60 supportive listeners in attendance including members of the Clowes family and a coterie of Shrewsbury Jazz Network supporters, usually to be found at their HQ, the town’s other Arts Centre, The Hive. The Clowes gig followed close on the heels of a triumphant SJN promotion at The Hive featuring saxophonist Tim Garland and given the fact that the Clowes group deployed roughly the same instrumental configuration appetites may already have been whetted.   

With this being an album launch tour Clowes started out by sticking closely to the new recording with the first three tracks being played in order. First we heard “One Hour”, a tune about “the extra hour of dreaming you get when the clocks go back”. This featured Clowes on soprano and began with an atmospheric intro featuring spacey guitar and organ, mallet rumbles and the Garbarek-like cry of Clowes’ sax. Subsequently the piece gained momentum with Clowes’ soprano dancing lithely and lightly, bolstered by Montague’s guitar grooves and Stanley’s organ bass lines. Stanley switched to piano for his own sparkling solo and Montague also weighed in on guitar before a second incisive outing from Clowes on soprano. Eventually the piece came full circle to end as atmospherically as it had started.

“Blue Calm”,  written for “the multi-faceted Iris of Greek and Roman Mythology”, was generally more reflective in tone with Clowes moving to tenor and probing gently alongside Stanley’s lyrical piano and Maddren’s finely judged brush work.

“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 tricky Coleman-esque theme this proved to be one of Clowes’ most energetic compositions and, inevitably, featured Maddren deploying sticks exclusively. Features for tenor sax and piano were woven into the dense fabric with Montague subsequently soaring above the complexities with a singing guitar solo.

Clowes stuck with the album but varied the running order with a performance of “Muted Lines”, a composition by the Suffolk based Anglo-Armenian composer, singer and harpist Cevanne Horrocks-Hopayian that Clowes commissioned for the album. Based on the theme of ‘forced migration’ the somewhat involved reasoning behind the commission is detailed in my album review and can be read here;
Tonight’s performance featured Clowes as vocalist, singing Horrocks-Hopayian’s moving words above the ethereal sounds of Montague’s guitar FX, Stanley’s organ drones and Maddren’s cymbal shimmers. Following this introductory passage Montague’s guitar struck up an anthemic melody that was later taken up by Clowes’ tenor sax.

The first set concluded with “The Master and Margarita”, a composition from Clowes’ 2011 début album, “Tangent” inspired by the writings of the Russian author Mikhail Bulgakov. A companion piece appears on “My Iris” and was to feature in the second half of tonight’s concert. The recorded version includes substantial contributions from guest musicians Freddie Gavita (trumpet) and Louise McMonagle (cello) but tonight’s performance showcased the talents of Clowes on tenor and Stanley at the piano.

The second half commenced with the knotty angularities of the appropriately titled “On / Off” from Clowes’s second album, 2012’s “and in the night time she is there”. Introduced by Maddren’s drums the piece featured Stanley on piano with lengthy but engaging solos coming from Clowes on tenor and Montague on guitar.

Returning to the “My Iris” repertoire The quintet tackled “Tap Dance (for Baby Dodds)”, Clowes’s response to Horrocks-Hopayian’s “Muted Lines” from the first set. Clowes’ piece is a celebration of the art of jazz but a condemnation of the slave trade that helped to spawn it. Inspired by the early rhythms developed by pioneer jazz drummers such as Dodds the tune is also a paean to the modern drum kit, invented by jazz musicians and still at the heart of all contempoary Afro-American derived music from jazz to blues to rock. Unsurprisingly Maddren featured prominently on this piece, relishing his role as he and pianist Stanley combined to create the interlocking rhythms that fuelled the solos from Clowes and Montague as the spirit of New Orleans mingled with more contemporary complexities.

Also from the new album “In Between The Moss And Ivy” was an atmospheric if somewhat abstract ballad intended to evoke the beauty and mystery of an English garden. Introduced by a delicate duet between Clowes on soprano and Montague on guitar the piece featured Stanley moving between organ and piano with both instruments addingg substantially to the air of fragile lyricism.

Staying with the latest album the whimsical “Be A Glow Worm” reflected upon a piece of gnomic advice offered to Clowes by her one time mentor Iain Ballamy. Featuring Stanley on Hammond tonight’s version included some unexpectedly violent drum outbursts from Maddren behind Clowes’ tenor solo.

The set concluded with “A Cat Called Behemoth”, a tune from the new album inspired by Mikhail Bulgakov’s “Diaboliad” and effectively a companion piece to the earlier “The Master and Margarita”. With Stanley on Gothic sounding Hammond the piece was a convincing blend of the playful and the sinister with solos for organ, tenor sax and guitar.

Despite the sometimes challenging complexity of the music the Shrewsbury audience responded enthusiastically to Clowes and her colleagues and this proved to be a highly successful home town gig for the saxophonist and composer. The deserved encore was unannounced but I’m reasonably certain that it was “ A Little Tune”, a piece sourced from Clowes’ second album and deliberately written in the style of a jazz standard. With its mainstream feel and 4/4 rhythms this was a perfect “wind down” piece and has often featured as an encore at Clowes’ concerts, a reward to the audience for responding positively to the trickier stuff earlier on.

My thanks to all four musicians for speaking with me afterwards. The Trish Clowes Quartet have further dates as listed below. Meanwhile Ross Stanley revealed that he and James Maddren will be touring the UK as part of a trio led by New York based saxophonist Seamus Blake in February 2017, something that should be well worth checking out. 

Trish Clowes tour dates;


26th, Cambridge Modern Jazz Club, Hidden Rooms, Cambridge.

27th, Emulsion V Festival, mac, Birmingham.

Further information at



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