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Trish Clowes: From Shorter, Lovano and the Sphinx

Bruce Lindsay By

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There doesn't seem to be an award for the best album title of the year anywhere in the wide world of jazz, but if there was then And In The Night-Time She Is There (Basho Records) would surely be a contender for 2012. The romantic and mysterious title belongs to the second album from saxophonist/composer Trish Clowes. On one hand, it captures the life of the jazz performer, onstage in the hours of darkness, the focus of an audience's attention. Or perhaps the mysterious "She" is the music itself, emerging from the ether as the world grows dark. Either way, congratulations must go to Oscar Wilde for thinking up such a perceptive album title in the first place.

Of course, it's doubtful if Wilde ever intended his phrase, from his 1894 poem "The Sphinx," to be used as the title of an album of twenty-first century contemporary music, but Clowes is always ready to be inspired by poetry or prose. Her love of the written word comes across strongly in conversation and has directly influenced aspects of both of her albums to date. Clowes is also one of a growing number of young musicians who are curating their own events. In Clowes' case it's a mini-festival of improvised music called Emulsion, the first of which took place at London's Vortex jazz club in May, 2012.

Clowes grew up in a musical household alongside her brother Mike Clowes, who is now a professional drummer. Her career choice could have taken a very different path however. "Both our parents are very musical, although they're not professionals. My dad and I could both have done medicine or music: he chose medicine but I chose music. He's a brass player, really into orchestral music. I heard a lot of classical music growing up; plus, I had piano lessons. My mum trained as a dancer and went to art school. I got taken to lots of concerts, ballets, while I was a kid. I think with music, even if your parents aren't musical themselves they need to encourage you, take you to things. I didn't decide, when I was a kid, that I wanted to be a musician, it was just a part of what I did. I think most of the musicians I know have parents who encouraged them in some way."

Clowes' early love of music led her to the tenor saxophone, which remains her instrument of choice, and to the Royal Academy of Music, where she began her studies in 2003. As a player she's been compared to Stan Getz, Bobby Wellins and Lester Young. There is certainly a similarity with Wellins' economy of style and with the sound of Young and especially Getz, but none of these players were influential on Clowes as a young player. So who were her influences? "In a slightly chronological order, as a teenager, 16 or 17, it was definitely Wayne Shorter and Iain Ballamy. When I was at college I had problems with my neck and arms so I switched from tenor to alto for awhile and that's when I got into Lee Konitz. Warne Marsh and Joe Lovano followed, then I got into Lester Young after college. He's incredibly lyrical."

For Clowes, three players stand out. "Iain, Wayne Shorter, Joe Lovano are very definite influences. I don't think you can hear Lee Konitz in my playing, but he's such an incredible player and the way he improvises is absolutely mind-blowing."

Tangent (Basho Records, 2010) was recorded at the Royal Academy of Music in March 2010. It was an ambitious debut for Clowes, filled with her own compositions and featuring a host of talented young players including three musicians—guitarist Chris Montague, bassist Calum Gourlay and drummer James Maddren—who form the nucleus of the group on And In The Night-Time.

Pianist Gwilym Simcock, one of the UK's most influential and respected musicians, has played a key part in the development of Clowes' albums. Initially, Clowes was managing Tangent's creation independently: "It was humble beginnings" she says, laughing. "Later, I mentioned it to Gwilym and it kind of went to a whole other level after that." Simcock was so impressed with the young saxophonist's work that he went on to produce Tangent and play on its opening track, "Prelude To A Sketch." He's also involved with And In The Night-Time, co-producing the album with engineer Curtis Schwartz and playing piano on four tunes. "He's really, really helpful. I ran a lot of the orchestral material past him and discussed the music, how to plan the recording. He gave me feedback on the mixing and mastering as well."

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