‘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)

‘Next Beginning’ – Samuel Eagles Quartet

SamuelEagles

BALANCE IS EVERYTHING… and this fine debut album, Next Beginning, from young London saxophonist and composer Samuel Eagles and his quartet achieves that assured, measured clarity and cohesion. Tutored and mentored by jazz sax illuminati including Mornington Lockett, Jason Yarde, Mark Lockheart and Jean Toussaint, this release suggests Eagles has got what it takes, both as an instrumentalist and writer, to make a big splash on the contemporary jazz scene.

Joining him are Ralph Wyld (vibes), Fergus Ireland (double bass) and Eric Ford (drums) in an insouciant programme of originals which, laudibly, have been developed and honed on the live circuit before committing them to the recording studio – perhaps this explains the extended nature of all eight numbers here, importantly affording time and space for uninhibited improvisation. Declaring Stateside influences such as Logan Richardson and Ambrose Akinmusire, the quartet’s style is wholly accessible, revealing an empathy – and a certain warmth – which comes from strongly-forged musical bonds.

Key to the band’s openness is the vibraphone limpidity of Ralph Wyld, demonstrated in ten-minute opener Remembering Myself which, with weightless bass and percussion, offers a sax tune so eloquent and amiable that it feels pleasingly familiar. The Place I Live swings apace to Eric Ford’s frisky, ricocheting drums and Fergus Ireland’s sprinting bass; the liquidity of Eagles’ extemporisations, gliding over this babbling momentum, are easily comparable to those of Jean Toussaint, or even Scott Hamilton – and again, Wyld sparkles, particularly in a trio episode with Ireland and Ford. The affable 50 Pound Friendship further displays the band’s parity in a glassy-smooth late-nighter; and Outsider rattles to Ford’s distinctive drum crispness, Eagles’ hard-edged rapid-fire riffs radiating an impressive maturity.

Jason Yarde’s guidance is tangible in Samuel Eagles’ supple soprano prowess on Smells Like Summer, its easy-going, sunshiny demeanour unfolding from an African-style hook that could easily be from the pen of Abdullah Ibrahim (and Ford’s circular cymbal patterns which welcome back the leader towards the close are a joy). The perky, inquiring chromatics of My Instigation set up a more furtive mood as bass and vibes gingerly tread a path for the busy percussion of Ford. Following, We Were Meant To Be provides a glimpse of this saxman’s obvious world-at-his-feet potential with a firecracker that sizzles to the frenetic energy of all; and, as Eagles uses the lower end of his alto register so effectively, it begs the question as to how compelling he might also sound as a tenorist. Title track Next Beginning closes the album – a beautifully upbeat, shuffling number which ‘final-curtains’ each member of the band, the leader proudly revelling in its ebullience.

Released on the F-IRE label on 10 November 2014, the album launches at the Pizza Express Jazz Club, Soho, London on 16 November as part of the 2014 EFG London Jazz Festival. More live dates are shown below, and the quartet will also be performing at Jazz in the Round, The Cockpit Theatre, London, on 23 February 2015 – check out previous live video clips here.

 

Samuel Eagles alto saxophone, soprano saxophone
Ralph Wyld vibraphone
Fergus Ireland double bass
Eric Ford drums

Recorded and mastered by Derek Nash.
Artwork by Alban Low.

2014 live dates:
16 November: LAUNCH – Pizza Express Jazz Club, Soho, London
28 November: Torfaen Jazz Club, Griffithstown
02 December: Sela Bar, Leeds
03 December: The Globe Jazz Co-op, Newcastle upon Tyne
04 December: WM Jazz Club, London
07 December: Southampton Modern Jazz Club, Southampton
18 December: The Bull’s Head, London

samueleagles.co.uk
f-ire.com

F-IRE – F-IRECD 72 (2014)