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Trish Clowes

Trish Clowes Tangent Quartet, The Gateway Arts Centre, Shrewsbury, 02/10/2014.


by Ian Mann

October 06, 2014


Ian Mann enjoys a hometown performance by saxophonist and composer Trish Clowes and takes a look at her forthcoming album "Pocket Compass".

Trish Clowes Tangent Quartet, Gateway Arts Centre, Shrewsbury, 2/10/2014.

Saxophonist and composer Trish Clowes was born and raised in Shrewsbury but is now based in London where she has gained an impressive reputation as both an instrumentalist and as a composer. Signed to Basho Records her two album releases “Tangent” (2010) and “and in the night time she is there” (2012) have offered ambitious and increasingly convincing mergers of jazz and contemporary classical music featuring guest soloists (among them pianist Gwilym Simcock) and orchestral arrangements alongside a core jazz group. Her third album “Pocket Compass” is set for release on 10th November 2014 and embraces a similar range of influences. Simcock is again substantially involved and three of the eight tracks also feature the BBC Orchestra conducted by Andre de Ridder, the orchestra’s involvement doubtless the result of Clowes’ appointment as a BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artist,  a that role previously been fulfilled by other jazz musicians including Simcock, trumpeter Tom Arthurs and reeds player Shabaka Hutchings. “Pocket Compass” is already available for purchase at Trish’s live appearances.

This home town gig at Shrewsbury’s mainly classically orientated Gateway Arts Centre featured Clowes’ Tangent Quartet, the core of musicians who have appeared on all her albums. Joining the saxophonist were Troyka guitarist Chris Montague, plus the rhythm team of Calum Gourlay (double bass) and James Maddren (drums) who also form the engine room of pianist Kit Downes’ trio and quintet. Much of the material played tonight was sourced from the new album but the programme also included a couple of pieces from “and in the night time…”. An audience of around fifty turned up to offer their support to the local heroine, although it took them a while to get into Clowes’ sometimes challenging music in a rather antiseptic performance space that was reminiscent of a school classroom. However they gradually loosened up (a few glasses of wine probably helped) and got behind the band to give Clowes and her colleagues a suitably warm appreciation.

The first set began with “On / Off” a piece from Clowes’ second album “and in the night time…”. The featured the leader soloing on tenor sax above the knotty, interlocking rhythmic patterns generated by her colleagues with Maddren deploying a mixture of sticks and mallets. As well as supplying needling rhythmic and melodic fragments Montague was also featured as a soloist. The Troyka guitarist’s broad range of influences, drawn from jazz, rock and other musical sources ensure that he is one of the most inventive and individual guitar players on the contemporary scene, his solos pleasingly free of clichés.

From the new album “Symphony In Yellow” was inspired by Oscar Wilde’s poem of the same name, the words of which are reproduced on the album packaging. The feathery blend of tenor sax and guitar on the intro typified the obvious rapport between Clowes and Montague, the pair later joined by the soft patter of Maddren’s brushed drums. Clowes’ solo began with a warm, lush tenor sound, becoming spikier and more angular as the tune progressed. This was essentially a tune in three sections, each perhaps designed to depict one stanza of Wilde’s London inspired poem. A kind of dream section in the middle featured airily breathy tenor, brushed drums and the ethereal sound of Montague’s delicate Pink Floyd style slide guitar. This developed into more assertive solo prior to a final restatement of the main theme by Clowes. The recorded version also includes a substantial contribution from Simcock. Wilde is obviously something of a tochstone for Clowes, her previous album included a setting of his poem “The Sphinx”, the words sung by Kathleen Willison.

“Spiky” is a word that could also be applied to the following “Porcupine”, another composition from the new album. Again Simcock is involved on the recorded version bet tonight the focus was again on the interplay between Clowes and Montague, particularly on the freely structured intro. Eventually a hooky theme emerged which provided the impetus for an engaging solo from Gourlay on double bass which developed into an engaging dialogue with Maddren’s drums. Montague’s spiralling guitar solo was particularly impressive and drew the first spontaneous applause of the evening. Cowes own solo continued the momentum and included some of her most full on playing of the set, this encouraged by Maddren’s “bomb dropping” drum stylings.

In 2013 Clowes undertook a visit to California, the trip directly influencing her composition “Pfeiffer And The Whales”. This impressionistic piece features Clowes replicating the sound of whale song via her soprano saxophone. On record the effect was achieved by blowing her horn directly into the innards of Simcock’s grand piano and harnessing the resultant resonances and echoes. Live she makes use of a Cathedral effects unit, combining multiphonics with live processing to realise a similarly beautiful effect of echo and decay. Here the focus was on mood and texture rather than virtuosity, something superbly realised here with Montague’s guitar delicately weaving in and out of the sonic mist created by Clowes’ treated horn, Maddren’s mallet rumbles and Gourlay’s bowed bass.

The first set concluded with “Atlas”, the opening track on Clowes’ second album and one of her most accessible themes. Subtly propelled by Maddren’s implacable brushed drum grooves the piece featured eminently melodic solos for guitar, tenor sax and double bass. An excellent ending to a varied and absorbing first half.

Set two opened with “Radiation”, the opening track from the new album and one of the three to feature the BBC Concert Orchestra. Naturally tonight’s version was substantially different as Clowes’ tenor soared over the jagged rhythms of her colleagues, Montague tapping his slide against his strings to create an additional percussive effect. His own solo was another spiralling confection that exhibited a strong rock influence. It was all very different to the recorded version which also includes a sparkling solo from Simcock.

Also from the new album “Wayne’s Waltz” was another tune inspired by Clowes’ visit to California and her meeting there with the great Wayne Shorter. A showcase for Clowes on soprano the sax/guitar/bass intro developed into a probing Clowes solo with a discernible Middle Eastern influence as Maddren again detonated drum explosions around her.

The as yet unrecorded “Swifts” was dedicated to Clowes’ former tutor Pete Churchill, a busy and inspirational figure referred to by Clowes as being in “perpetual motion”. The piece also has a lyric, unheard tonight, written by Norma Winstone. Tonight the piece showcased all four members of Tangent with Clowes leading off the solos on tenor sax followed by Gourlay on double bass and Montague on guitar. After a brief restatement of the theme by Clowes Maddren rounded things off with an impressive drum feature.

Another new tune titled “In Between The Moss The Ivy” (“make of that what you will”, remarked Clowes enigmatically) featured gently spidery interplay between breathy tenor sax and guitar, brushed drums and a second use of Clowes’ Cathedral effects unit. ” I wanted something to compete with all of Chris’ gizmos” she joked. This delicately atmospheric piece was to be the penultimate tune of the evening.

The quartet revisited “and in the night time…” to end with “A Little Tune”, also the closing track on that album. It’s a charming melody, written in the style of a modern day jazz standard and with a more mainstream feel than most of Clowes’ music. It began with a characteristic tenor sax/ guitar duet before Maddren’s brushed grooves underpinned melodic solos from Clowes, Montague and the excellent Gourlay. Appreciative home town applause saw the quartet coming back to take a bow but there was to be no encore. However members of the band did take the time to chat with audience members afterwards. 

Five pieces from “Pocket Compass” were performed this evening. The album also includes “Balloon” and “Chorale”, two successful collaborations for jazz group and orchestra, the former also featuring a solo from oboist Lauren Weavers. It came as no surprise that these pieces were not featured in a small group setting but it seems strange that “Question Mark” did not appear, a lively quintet piece that develops from a freely structured intro to embrace sparkling solos from Clowes on soprano and Simcock on piano plus some inventive guitar work from Montague and sure footed rhythmic interplay from Gourlay and Maddren. It’s a spirited piece that would have fitted well into the context of the evening. Perhaps the absence of Simcock may have been a factor but I’m sure the piece could have been rearranged, like so many of the others, to compensate for his absence. Simcock is fully integrated member of the band on record and it’s only his own busy schedule that prevents him appearing on Tangent live gigs.

With its ambitious compositions and excellent playing “Pocket Compass” looks set to be yet another critical success and an album that will further enhance Trish Clowes’ reputation. It’s a record that continues to push at musical boundaries, challenging but still readily accessible. Clowes remains a name to watch.

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