Listening to new music from Trish Clowes, above, who found herself as the sole saxophonist among many pianists paying tribute to John Taylor last year it strikes me now how not since Barbara Thompson in a very different style and idiom, jazz-rock and TV music primarily to Clowes’ chamber jazz, and more recently YolanDa Brown, smooth jazz and reggae, has a female saxophonist on the UK scene had such a high profile, gained in Clowes’ case mainly through BBC New Generation Artists backing early on, and more than deservedly so.
Hearing her live that night on the South Bank it ought not to have been a surprise how complete an artist she is, even in a snapshot appearance, because the earlier Pocket Compass, featuring the saxophonist-composer’s own small band Tangent – pianist Gwilym Simcock, electric guitarist Chris Montague, double bassist Calum Gourlay, and drummer James Maddren – joining her and the BBC Concert Orchestra, conducted by André de Ridder, had so very effectively heralded the way.
On My Iris, which is released next month, there is some continuity in personnel, Troyka’s Holdsworthian guitarist Chris Montague, pianist/organist Ross Stanley (his bass pedals a partial substitution for Gourlay’s role), and drummer James Maddren join Clowes on a very aesthetic set bookended by the tracks ‘One Hour’ and ‘Be A Glow Worm,’ the whimsical titling of the latter and the tone of her saxophone sharing a lot in common with her mentor Iain Ballamy.
But that is where the, to some, invidious comparison, no matter how apt or acknowledged they are on some level as resemblances tend to be, fades. As a composer she is a different kind of romantic to Ballamy but like him chooses tenor and soprano saxophones as her main instruments. The Wayne Shorter inspiration is still strong as well but more so in the compositional approach where she moves fluently from the observational (‘Blue Calm’) to the pressure cooker (‘I Can’t Find My Other Brush’).
Recorded in a Sussex studio that her label Basho often uses, Curtis Schwartz’s in Ardingly, the CD liner notes explain some of the wide array of album influences: a cat character in Bulgakov; Greek/Roman mythology (the title track); a reflection on the early 20th century genocide in Armenia via a piece by singer-harpist Cevanne Horrocks-Hopayian; early jazz drummer Baby Dodds.
Clowes’ notion of ‘response pieces’ is fairly novel and works well. There is a lot to listen to, the colours of guitar and organ fattening and providing a tangy flavour to the essential roux. An easy hit on your first listen it isn’t, you may well be drawn back to the well more and more for refills after further listens as this Iris’ great tasting quality further reveals itself.
Tour dates around release time: via trishclowes.com