Trish Clowes’ My Iris, 20th January 2017

For sheer variety and adventurousness, this band can’t have many competitors.

It is important that improvising musicians should continue to write and perform fresh material: it hardly displaces affection for the Great American Songbook—and what musician worthy of the name would accept boundaries around that most creative of endeavours, improvisation? Nearly all of the material Trish Clowes presented was her own; and it was a pleasure to be present at what was, after all, the continuance of the tradition.

Trish Clowes is a fine player, with thoughtful and very cleanly executed melodic lines and solos. But together with superb support from her band, she also introduced some fascinating ventures into more abstract territory—much abetted with the electronic enhancements now available to nearly all instrumentalists. There was also a truly surprising and very effective rendering of a 16th century Armenian poem—sung by Clowes against an abstract but painstakingly exquisite background—a truly haunting performance, before delivering an instrumental ‘response.’

But there was no shortage of high-voltage, driving jazz, either; and Clowes has the clarity, finesse and power to deliver, whatever the tempo. In what can only be regarded as a tribute to her writing skills, the music was a truly well integrated band performance, each of her band members supplying the commitment that she herself demonstrated throughout the gig. 

Ross Stanley favours a rich but fleet style of piano—very full, but never densely chorded or heavily peddled—and with superb (and rather unusual) interplay between his left and right hands. Yet the sparkle of his playing remained supportive until the spotlight fell directly on him. And in the second set, he delivered a solo of an altogether different character, to complement Trish Clowes’ soprano-led ballad: a sequence of quietly voiced set pieces which seemed to descend in steps that were at once surprising and breathtakingly apt.

A quartet without a bass player requires a particularly alert, adaptive and skilled guitarist and Chris Montague filled that role with ease, not only shifting between rhythm and solo turns, but also providing everything that the band’s variety of music demanded, from oblique chording and high-end, plaintive sustains to electronic sound washes—often in synch with Ross Stanley’s Hammond. It all fell within the compass of jazz, but what a great deal of technical prowess that now requires!

James Maddren is a superb drummer—wonderfully propulsive, resourceful and creative, but never obtrusive or overbearing. It is always instructive to see and hear what a creative drummer can bring to improvised music—and this was a musical feast. His playing is what made it possible for sax, piano and guitar to engage in their complex interplay, driving the music forward, but without racing ahead or losing sight of its character. His showpiece was a tribute to the New Orleans drummer, Baby Dodds—but it was also a blast for the entire band—as was the entire gig for the audience.

Trish Clowes – tenor sax
Ross Stanley – piano
Chris Montague – guitar
James Maddren – drums

What’s on next at Wakefield Jazz?

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