‘Pocket Compass’ – Trish Clowes


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)


‘Halftime’ – Rachael Cohen


THERE IS SOMETHING rather kick-off-your-shoes warm and inviting about this new quartet release from saxophonist and composer Rachael Cohen. With a beautifully rounded, gentle vibrato alto tone (think Getz, Desmond or, currently, Ben van Gelder) and the assured mellowness of Phil Robson’s guitar, the whole ten-track programme presents a particularly fine debut.

Alluding to the world of sport – “the idea of half-time in a sports game, of pausing for thought and considering your next move” – ‘Halftime’ is an album of impressive Cohen originals (plus Ornette Coleman’s Just For You). Bassist Calum Gourlay and James Bashford on drums complete the line-up – and the four hit it off perfectly, creating a particularly satisfying cohesion and balance. Originally hailing from the far-north-easterly Shetland Islands and already with an impressive jazz pedigree, Cohen exudes a freedom of spirit which inhabits both her writing and playing – quite a breath of fresh of air. A prime example is Rise and Fall of SC, a breezy descending-bass number in which Rachael’s melodious sax dances fancifully, eventually giving way to Robson who shares the same airiness. Preceding this, the seven-minute Groove Envy is more driven and freely felt, Robson offering a pleasingly crunchy dissonance as well as bright soloing, Gourlay and Bashford controlling well its catchy, triplet-heavy rhythm.

A sublime ‘halftime’ sax/guitar/bass miniature, Intermission, leads to the blithe and chirpy Riggins, Higgins?, drums, bass and chordal guitar supplying an appealing, repetitive ground for the nimble, confident alto and guitar soloing. In Window Watcher, Cohen’s inquiring sax is pitched against the mystery of Robson’s close chord clusters and Gourlay’s tiptoeing bass before a fast-paced central section snaps into action, guitar and bass delectably scampering and falling over each other. Album opener, The Manor, is beautifully buoyant, Bashford’s precise snare and cymbals maintaining lightness throughout and the alto melodies so affable; and Cohen’s interpretation of Just For You offers a touch more momentum than Coleman’s original, but still ‘lays back’ to Gourlay’s cool, walking bass and Robson’s ornamentation.

In the amiable, tuneful Ask Me Later, Rachael’s alto lead is so velvety – and the piece’s winsome rhythmic and chromatic motifs, along with Gourlay’s lucid bass soloing, give the impression of a standard that’s been around for years. Free Speech reveals a harder-edged improvisational aspect of the quartet’s playing – and, though brief, it perhaps suggests a development for ‘album no.2’ with obvious communication between the players, yet an exciting taste of spontaneity (Bashford’s ringing cymbal a great touch). Softly-brushed Full Time certainly brings a hankering for extra time – a gorgeous final number underpinned by Phil Robson’s genial guitar accompaniment.

Apparently, Rachael Cohen is Whirlwind’s first female leader ‘signing’ – expect to see plenty more classy ‘first team’ performances in the future!

Released on 18 November 2013, details, video and audio samples can be found here.

Rachael Cohen
alto sax  rachaelcohenmusic.com
Phil Robson guitar  philrobson.net
Calum Gourlay bass  whirlwindrecordings.com/calum-gourlay/
James Bashford drums  jimbashford.co.uk

Whirlwind Recordings – WR4644 (2013)