Trish Clowes and My Iris
Livestream Jazz from the Boileroom, Guildford, Tuesday 26 January 2021
In collaboration with Guildford Jazz
Trish Clowes saxophone, Ross Stanley Rhodes keyboard, Chris Montague guitar, James Maddren drums
American writer Whitney Balliett coined the phrase ‘the sound of surprise’ more than sixty years ago. It’s served as an apt epithet for jazz ever since, never more so than today when surprises of any kind are in such short supply and so desperately needed to break the tedium of lockdown. Thankfully, Trish Clowes presented surprises in abundance with a ninety-minute livestream of original compositions, some newly minted, with her band My Iris from the Boilieroom in Guildford on Tuesday 26 January, the second such event promoted by Guildford Jazz in collaboration with Jazz in Reading.
The opening number took shape from a gentle, ‘round-the-houses’ meander before James Maddren hit the groove. Once in motion, ‘Lightning Les’ simply grew from the subtle interplay between the individual musicians and the varying depths of texture and sound colour they drew from their respective instruments. As if in defiance of its title, this tune was full of space and in no particular hurry. There was a lovely, very brief, moment when Trish used the ‘slap-tongue’ technique to perfect effect.
‘A View With a Room’, a product of the most recent Lockdown and here receiving its ‘World Premiere’ instantly grabbed the attention and set the toes tapping with an insistent bass line from Ross Stanley’s Rhodes keyboard. Chris Montague added to the fun with his funky edged guitar. It was the sort of number that you felt could go on for ever with endless possibilities for invention.
I loved the reflective opening to ‘Time’, another new piece, and given that it received its first outing during the brief sound check ahead of the gig, it worked surprisingly well – testimony to the musicianship of all the guys in the band!
In the absence of any other thoughts, Trish may have felt obliged to settle for ‘No Idea’ as the title for her next piece. But, in fact, exactly the opposite proved to be the case. A veritable stream of Ideas bounced back and forth across the bandstand, blasting away the constraints of Lockdown. Great fun!
‘Abbott & Costello’, inspired, not as you might expect, by the comedy duo of Hollywood renown, but two characters in Denis Villeneuve’s science fiction film ‘Arrival’, was without doubt, the highlight of the evening for me. Though Trish names Wayne Shorter as a key influence on her sound and approach to music, this haunting piece and her sparse, achingly beautiful tenor, reminded me of the late Bobby Wellins and his classic collaboration with Stan Tracey, ‘Starless and Bible Black’. Sheer perfection!
‘Amber’, brought a distinct change of mood, with a sound portrait of Amber Bauer, the founder of the charity Donate4Refugees, that captured the energy and dynamism that Trish so clearly admires in this particular lady.
‘Free to Fall’ brought the gig to a thrilling close. After a delicate, hymn-like introduction, it gathered pace, soon reaching a ‘free for all’ of intensity propelled by James Maddren’s drums and cymbals, before turning full circle and ending with a run of barely discernible staccato notes from Trish’s tenor … and silence.
Marianne Windham, the guiding light of Guildford Jazz, rounded off the evening with an entertaining Q & A session, based on questions submitted by viewers during the livestream – the sort of things fans like to ask musicians after the gig in the bar, though in this instance without a pint in hand. With a microphone a-piece, everyone was able to join in, talking about their introduction to jazz, key influences, the characteristics of their instruments and the range of activities that have occupied their time during lockdown – baking, gardening, composing, teaching, recording, DIY and model making for young sons etc. etc.
Trish also explained how My Iris came to be the band name – why not simply ‘The Trish Clowes Quartet? It was one of those seemingly chance coming-togethers of her grandmother’s name and the variety of shades, tones and textures of colours one might find in the iris of the eye and she seeks to express through her music; an aim in which she succeeds brilliantly.
Having been required to wear a mask throughout the performance, James Maddren made a telling comment, which neatly summed up the evening. ‘Behind this mask,’ he said, ‘there’s a very happy face!’
Hear, Hear! Livestreaming, is indeed, a welcome innovation, and given the production values of the Guildford team, it is the next best thing to a live performance. All praise to Marianne Windham and her technical colleagues Dom and Beth of the Boileroom.
Trish Clowes’ most recent recorded offering is available as a download via https://trishclowes.bandcamp.com/album/my-iris
Review posted here by kind permission of Trevor Bannister