THE AWAKENING AURORA of Trish Clowes’ new album, My Iris, seems to summon those marvellously intuitive Weather Report conversations between Wayne Shorter and Joe Zawinul. Clowes was privileged to meet the legendary saxophonist; and both the sustained and fleeting subtleties of Hammond organ and guitar which support her soprano in opening number One Hour recall A Silent Way‘s delicate, suspended beauty.
Indeed, Trish Clowes is keen to understand and even draw on the lineage which underpins her development as saxophonist and composer: “It’s not about trying to sound like anything except yourself, but it’s becoming quite important to me to check out where it’s all coming from, because I think that comes out in your writing and in what you choose to play. The more you understand about the past, the better you can understand what you might want to offer to the future.”
As a reviewer, before drawing any conclusions, I place great emphasis on ‘living with’ an album over a period of time until its familiarity then begins to reveal hitherto undiscovered depths; and this has positively proved its worth here. A former BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artist, Clowes revels in the opportunity to write for and play alongside large ensembles – perhaps most notably with the BBC Concert Orchestra in 2014 release Pocket Compass. But in her own quartet line-up with Ross Stanley (piano, Hammond organ), Chris Montague (electric guitar) and James Maddren (drums), there appears to be a vital key which unlocks its magic – and that is a tangible musical intimacy which ensures a thread of free-flowing dialogue throughout the scoring and the improvisation. It can be heard in Clowes’ peekaboo phrases which open Blue Calm, or in the shared, intuitive development of A Cat Called called Behemoth (a perky little number inspired by Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel The Master and Margarita).
Whilst the term ‘chamber jazz’ might be applied to the focus of this album (both the perceived focus of the quartet’s interaction and our reward in engaging with its detail), it also rocks unashamedly. The glorious panic of I Can’t Find My Other Brush (apparently one of Maddren’s!) is redolent of Marius Neset, as Clowes’ tenor sputters and squawks through its restless, skittering percussion; and sticks-and-snare Tap Dance for Baby Dodds (which, in part, refers to early drum pioneer Warren Dodds, but is elaborated upon in the sleeve notes) is unashamedly buoyant, breaking loose to Chris Montague’s string-bent country guitar.
Especially poignant – and part of a shared project with Anglo-Armenian composer/musician Cevanne Horrocks-Hopayian, exploring the subject of forced migration and genocide – is Muted Lines. Clowes’ description of both artists’ individual approaches to this, expressing silence in reductive poetry and music, becomes affecting; and this is reinforced by a slowly pervading darkness painted by Ross Stanley’s Hammond, Montague’s guitar and the intended frailty of Clowes’ own voice (textures akin to the subterranean melancholy of Peter Gabriel). Stanley is a consummate organist and pianist in any environment – but his restrained, haunting contribution here is unexpectedly emotive.
Wistful, hazy country-garden meanderings of In Between the Moss and Ivy are laden with instrumental sensitivity, softly brushed with transitory piano, guitar and soprano fragrances; and rambunctious Be a Glow Worm (Clowes citing “some gnomic advice from my friend Iain Ballamy”) is mischievously bookended with furtive, microtonal tenor ascents and descents.
Immerse yourself in this captivating, wholly accessible, original music. The deeper you travel, the wider your ears (and irises) will be opened.
Trish Clowes saxophones
Chris Montague electric guitar
Ross Stanley piano, Hammond organ
James Maddren drums
Basho Records – SRCD 53-2