‘Umoya’ – Philip Clouts Quartet

Umoya

IT HAS TO BE the innate South African rhythm of life that Philip Clouts possesses which marks out his quartet albums with such sunshiny zest.

Born in Cape Town, and resident of the generally balmier UK region of West Dorset, the pianist/composer’s approach is typically melodic, straight-ahead and high-spirited. Following up his Hour of Pearl album of 2013, the Umoya title of this latest release is a Zulu word for ‘life force’, confirming that accessible joie de vivre in his performances; and to the rhythm section of Alex Keen (electric bass) and Dave Ingamells (drums), he invites young saxophonist Samuel Eagles – who impressed with his own debut album – to add considerable upfront sparkle.

So, certainly a jazz album, generously filled with memorable hooks and broad improvisation… but these eight tracks are also unquestionably infused with alluring ‘world’ grooves which find their way so readily into Clouts’ compositions, and which are central to their attraction. Title track Umoya is the perfect illustration, its clarity and apparent simplicity actually paving the way for bright, syncopated rhythms which might recall Chris McGregor or Dudu Pukwana, as Samuel Eagles’ elongated phrases intertwine with Clouts’ own lucid solo lines and endearing block chord triplet sequences.

Dreamy Driving catches the imagination – a musically colourful journey taking in contemporary riffs, oases of calm and ear-pricking textural combinations held together by the mobility of Alex Keen’s electric bass; and Taranto‘s world/folk influence is heightened by Eagles’ Italianate inflections and Clouts’ vigorously cascading sequences.

Walking in Starlight‘s cool sidewalk nonchalance is created out of Keen’s unhurried bass and Clouts’ softly-jabbing electric piano, whilst Dave Ingamells’ momentum and crisp detail here are typical of his pervading presence throughout these 50 minutes or so. Perhaps it’s the Joe Sample-style keys here – reminiscent of Street Life – which bring the tantalising realisation that so many of Clouts’ melodically strong compositions cry out for a vocal line (his father was a South African poet); one can only imagine the potential vivacity – not to mention beauty – of such a project!

Direction South pays direct homage to the music of the pianist’s birth land in a joyous, Abdullah Ibrahim-like gambol; Amor possesses a contrasting restlessness, Eagles’ mysterious soprano sax deliciously weaving around Clouts’ ostinato undercurrent, occasionally hitting a hard-driving rock pulse; and the bright, lurching gospel/blues of Meandering is pounced upon by Eagles, his swooning modal explorations especially attractive.

There are certainly grittier, edgier experiences out there – but this is a life-affirming, musically-accomplished album to relax into (and, I dare say – when the sun deigns to reappear – to pop a cork to!). Umoya can be purchased from Philip Clouts’ website, Odradek Records, record stores and online retailers.

 

Philip Clouts piano, composer
Samuel Eagles saxophones
Alex Keen electric bass
Dave Ingamells drums

philipcloutsquartet.co.uk

Odradek Records – ODRCD503 (2015)

‘The Hour of Pearl’ – Philip Clouts Quartet

PhilClouts

AS THE BEAUTIFUL, atmospheric album art of Philip Clouts Quartet’s new release implies, the music of ‘The Hour of Pearl’ references nature and the passing of time, taking John Steinbeck’s writings as inspiration – the ‘hour’ being “the interval between day and night when time stops and examines itself”.

Following in the footsteps of pianist Clouts’ previous ‘Sennen Cove’ collection, which drew on the experiences of his own West Dorset home location, these eight original compositions have a joyful accessibility to them. But, perhaps not unlike searching for the treasures of that same Jurassic coastline, deeper investigation reaps rewards – in this case, heartwarming sounds from his high-ranking quartet team… Carlos Lopez-Real (alto and soprano saxes), Alex Keen (bass) and Jon Desbruslais (drums). Philip Clouts is immersed in jazz and world music, especially of his native South Africa, inspired by his father’s deep love of township jazz as well as such luminaries as pianists Abdullah Ibrahim and Chris McGregor – and that spirit lives through ‘The Hour of Pearl’.

So, to the album – and the unrelenting, piano-suggested waves of opening track, ‘Riptide’, immediately creating a vivid coastal impression, Desbruslais’ crashing and shimmering cymbals adding greatly to the imagery. Lopez-Real introduces a bright alto solo tune and subsequent improvisation before Clouts takes it off in other directions, bass and drums adding sparkle to the shared melodies. ‘On West Hill’ is one of the album’s homely, amiable numbers which suggests the familiarity of an old jazz favourite, the fluidity of Alex Keen’s bass solo a pleasure to hear. The positivity continues with the upbeat ‘Delta’ which, halfway through, suddenly changes up a gear, clearly to the delight of Lopez-Real who creatively runs with it. And never let it be said that drum solos are always long and tedious – Desbruslais times his impressively varied, Cuban-inflected percussive display here to perfection.

The jaunty, sunny ‘Flamingo-ing’ is irresistible as it skips happily along, Clouts obviously revelling in a playful mood which demonstrates, in block chords and octaves, the influences of his South African background, as well as a beautifully lyrical sax-led interlude. Title track ‘The Hour of Pearl’ paints ‘the interval between day and night’ in a more contemplative hue, characterised by a piano/bass unison riff interspersed with smooth alto lines. Triple time ‘Clef Mona’ dances alluringly and mysteriously, Lopez-Real’s soprano soaring above Clouts and his rhythm section who increasingly push the pace (coastline impressionism never far off).

With its delightful, held-back bossa feel, ‘As Evening Falls’ continues the theme of passing time, Lopez-Real’s low sax and Clouts’ luscious, sparing, major/minor accompaniment so sensitively felt; and Keen’s simple yet effective bass further enhances, to my mind, this portrayal of the peace of a Mediterranean afterglow. The gentle, skittering, rattling percussion and repeated piano motif of closing number ‘Nyasa Lullaby’ (a reinvention of a 2004 piece) again display African overtones, soprano improvising both fluidly and contentedly.

Philip Clouts’ jazz belongs to that long line of successful musicians who, rather than hammering at the outer limits of the avant-garde or free jazz world, create emotionally-felt, highly listenable melodies and improvisations which colourfully lift the spirits. A rather pleasing soundtrack to this late Summer transition into the ‘season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’.

‘The Hour of Pearl’ is released on Point Records on 23 September 2013, with an accompanying tour: http://www.philipcloutsquartet.co.uk/tour-dates

Purchase at: https://philipclouts.bandcamp.com/album/the-hour-of-pearl


Philip Clouts  piano
Carlos Lopez-Real  saxophones
Alex Keen  bass
Jon Desbruslais  drums, percussion

Point Records – PCD026 (2013)