Paul Clarvis Trio
Dromara, N. Ireland
February 19, 2023
The last gig of Paul Clarvis Trio's fifteen-date UK tour to promote its debut album Freight Train
(Village Life, 2022) was likely its smallest and furthest removed from bright city lights. Magy's Farm, a rural venue with a capacity of around forty, is low-key by the usual venue parameters of visibility, footfall and publicity, but in its off-the-beaten-track location and its intimacy lies its charm.
As for drummer Paul Clarvis
, pianist Liam Noble
and singer Cathy Jordan
, their undoubted musical charms lay in the seamless blend of jazz and folk that held the audience rapt for around ninety minutes. Jazz-folk or folk-jazz? It mattered not. As Louis Armstrong
once intoned: 'Man, all music is folk music. You ain't never heard no horse sing a song, have you?'
Having formed in less-than-ideal circumstances during the pandemic, Paul Clarvis Trio may be young as groups go, but the three members boast a wealth of experience. Roscommon singer and bodhran player Jordan has fronted iconic Sligo folksters Dervish since 1991, bringing Irish traditional music to the world. As a session musician, Clarvis' career spans multiple film soundtracks and starry collaborations with pop stars turned Knights of the Realm. But he is a jazzer at heart, revelling in the earthier, roots-based jazz of the riotous quartet Pigfoot
, alongside Chris Batchelor
, James Allsopp
Noble is equally versatile, adept in both straight-ahead settings with the likes of Stan Sulzman
, Kenny Wheeler
and Randy Brecker
, as well as in more outré projects such as the wonderfully named Sleepthief
a free improv trio with Ingrid Laubrock
and Tom Rainey
or with New York iconoclast Moondog
Little wonder then, that this trio's music spanned the centuries, scooping up and embracing multivarious musical elements along the way. But whether rooting around in the musical soil of New Orleans or riffing on Thelonious Monk
-inspired bebop, whether reimagining country and showtunes or delving deep into old Irish airs and ballads, the blues was the glue that bound it all together.
A cheerily eclectic set began with a low-key interpretation of the Sherman Brothers "Chim Chim Cher-ee." The tune's low pitch left Jordan struggling to impose herself on what was perhaps the set's only misstep. Jordan was much happier on "Freight Train," early blues-folk guitarist/singer Elizabeth Cotton's joyous ode to the freedom of the rails [see YouTube video below]. Clarvis' brushes imbued an infectious skiffle rhythm on this much-travelled song beloved of Bob Dylan
, the Grateful Dead
's Jerry Garcia and Taj Mahal
. Haunting, Jordan's tender delivery of "The Old Churchyard," the trio's spare arrangement on this traditional English song accentuating its hymnal grace.
A medley of Mose Allison
tunes followed. Clarvis, drummer in the influential blues-jazz singer/pianist's live trio for twenty-five years, added a little Nawlins pep on the swaggering "If You're Going to the City," and enlivened the slow blues shuffle "Was." The music bled seamlessly into Gillian Welsh's "Dear Someone," another slice of waltzing, blues-tinged Americana, spiced by Noble's rhythmically lithe, jangling improvisation and Clarvis' animation.
Jordan belted out a swinging version of "There'll Be Some Changes Made," doubling on rhythm bones, before softening the mood on Tom Waits' "Innocent When You Dream." For this trio nothing was off the table, with Jordan's sweet, Dolly Parton-esque twang coloring the country staple "Yellow Roses," lovingly rendered, and just as freely deconstructed by Noble and Clarvis, while "Truly Scrumptious" was given the bebop treatment.
Some of the trio's most affecting play drew from the Irish songbook. Dick Farrelly's "Dear Old Inishfree," a moving anthem for nostalgic Irish emigres everywhere, and a fresh, country-jazz reading of Percy French's "The Mountains of Mourne" provided two concert highlights. Pick of the bunch, however, was Jordan's self-penned "The Curragh Wren," a powerful lament based on a scarcely believable chapter of 19th century Irish history where outcast women, brutally ostracised, built 'nests' on the plains of Kildare where they lived for decades, and in many cases, where they died. Linley Hamilton
guested with piercing trumpet lines, a role he reprised on the thumping blues standard "Ain't Nobody's Business."
Clarvis and Noble paid tribute to Moondog, their former collaborator, on a spirited, French-sung "Paris," before the trio signed off with another outlier in the form of Nick Lowe's "The Beast In Me," their stylish rendition tinged, of course, with jazz and blues.
Folk music, whatever its provenance, of the highest order.