THE BELIEF in staying true to oneself, particularly as a creative, improvising musician (hence Pocket Compass), is very much the thread running through this third release from British saxophonist and composer Trish Clowes. A journey to California early in 2013, including a meet-up with jazz icon Wayne Shorter, provided considerable inspiration for these latest imaginings and writings, resulting in an adventurous recorded project which reflects “the people who help us stay on the right paths.”
Concluding three years as a BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artist, and recording here in full for the first time with her experienced and intuitive Tangent quintet, Clowes has also chosen to collaborate with the BBC Concert Orchestra to provide a luxurious weave of timbres and textures across all eight expansive originals.
From the outset, in the first of the three orchestral sessions, Radiation unfurls into a smorgasbord of delights as the quintet dances freely and comfortably with the lush breadth of its larger counterpart; and Clowes’ commanding, lyrical tenor is equalled by the familiar high dexterity of pianist Gwilym Simcock. With the orchestra extemporising from a melodic fragment, there’s a lot going on, yet it melds intriguingly well. Tangent’s Question Mark, written ahead of the Californian trip, introduces a mood of encircling apprehension as soprano sax pirouettes to Chris Montague’s distinctively unpredictable guitar staccato, the whole episode driven by the bass and drum urgency of Calum Gourlay and James Maddren; and Porcupine is expectedly spiky as its pointed rhythms jar against the satisfying amplified ramblings of Montague, whilst Clowes’ almost mocking tenor encourages a rapid swing to rise out of glorious disorder – just perfect.
From Oscar Wilde’s Symphony in Yellow, Trish Clowes interprets his paradoxical impressions of London’s vistas – “like a yellow silken scarf, the thick fog hangs along the quay” – into the most ravishing of quintet pieces, its combination of soft lyricism and light, workaday scurrying tempered by Montague’s sinewy, shadowier moments. Chattering octaves introduce high-spirited Balloon, as Clowes’ soprano and the oboe (fondly labelled ‘jazzboe’) of the BBCCO’s Lauren Weavers spiral upwardly against boisterous quintet action (Maddren as extravagant as ever) and striking, full orchestration with flickers of the late, great Kenny Wheeler.
Heralded by imitation mammal calls, courtesy of saxophone harmonics plus delicately plucked piano strings, the serenity of whale-watching in Big Sur is communicated beautifully in echoic Pfeiffer and the Whales; and in homage to the genius of Wayne Shorter, Wayne’s Waltz dazzles with the improvisatory soprano spark of its dedicatee, Clowes impressively unwavering throughout. To close, a sensitively-balanced Chorale displays the pellucid soloing of Calum Gourlay and Gwilym Simcock; and with luscious orchestral arrangements reminiscent of Claus Ogerman, the leader’s tenor searchings here become increasingly spellbinding.
All the while – as with 2012’s And In the Night-Time She Is There – this album carries the spine-tingling realisation that Trish Clowes is constantly knocking at the door of innovation, needing to pass through to discover further, uncharted avenues. It’s that inquiring edge, along with an innate musicality, that defines this collection of intelligently-crafted, collaborative compositions – a truly compelling addition to the catalogue as well as another indicator of this artist’s undoubtable advancement.
Releasing on 10 November 2014 and available from JazzCDs via Basho Records, the Pocket Compass album launch takes place at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London on 18 November as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival 2014, including work by Guy Barker and Norma Winstone.
Trish Clowes composer/arranger; tenor and soprano saxophones
Gwilym Simcock piano
Chris Montague electric guitar
Calum Gourlay double bass
James Maddren drums
BBC Concert Orchestra
André de Ridder conductor
Basho Records – SRCD 45-2 (2014)