There's an energy and a focus about this, Clowes fourth album for UK indie Basho records, that suggests a creative breakthrough. My Iris has kept that restlessness and love of music irrespective of genre apparent in Clowes earlier work, but feels a better constructed programme where the stylistic shifts are organic developments that blend naturally into the set-up of the compositions. Jazz is the core, but the breadth that comes from listening widely lifts this above the herd.
On My Iris the core band is a quartet, which means that Calum Gourlay's bass from 2014's Pocket Compass sits this one out, but at least three of the band have appeared on each Clowes record since 2010's Tangent. That stability is reflected in the ease and understanding of the interactions here -for example listen to the way Ross Stanley's piano occasionally quotes the staccato doubled notes of the theme on "I Can't Find My Other Brush," picked up and echoed almost immediately by Clowes.
Perhaps the most attention grabbing moment on initial listens though comes from the sole non-Clowes composition "Muted Lines" where Clowes relates Cevanne Horrocks-Hopayian's lyric based reduction of a line originally by 16th century poet Nahapet Kuchak. The idea of the piece is to experiment with how meaning shifts as parts of the sentence are "forgotten"suggesting that the feel remained with the silence potentially being filled with new meanings and interpretations. This and Clowes response piece "Tap Dance (for Baby Dodds)" share the topical theme of forced migration. Clowes' sleeve notes on her composition add the additional resonance of acknowledging the duality of sharing the emotion she feels towards jazz, while being aware of the ..."brutal and devastating past that ultimately led to the existence of jazz ...the Atlantic Slave Trade...." Before the less liberal and tolerant in our community assemble a posse, it's only fair to point out that Clowes' response piece is also considerably lighter than this quote implies. "Tap Dance (for Baby Dodds)" is a celebration of jazz drumming, Warren "Baby" Dodds being one of the pioneers, and Clowes is essentially giving thanks for the creative freedom that she enjoys through playing jazz.
My Iris is an album that is strong all of the way through, making it difficult to pick highlights without simply listing each track. That said mention must be made of "Blue Calm"'s showcase for Clowes' tenor, deftly evoking sunlight on still water through the way that the piano and guitar ripple beneath the saxophone. James Maddren's brushed drums here show a lightness of touch that greatly enhances the overall impression and are a further reminder of the tightness of the overall collective. Similarly, listen to Chris Montague's guitar on "A Cat called Behemoth," the nice rhythmic sounding guitar line later developing into a carefully controlled solo balancing experimentation and restraint admirably. How refreshing to find a guitarist that is able to follow the demands of the compositions without needing to act out some repressed guitar hero fantasy. Last but not least the band interaction on opener "One Hour" is of the highest standardthe opening eerie keyboard being gradually usurped by the way the guitar and piano pull the piece into the light, peaking with a breezy solo from Clowes.
This is an album that serves as a timely reminder of the talent in the UK jazz scene. Clowes and her band have taken a notable step forward and this album is highly recommended to anyone with an interest in literate, forward looking modern jazz.
One Hour; Blue Calm; I Can't Find My Other Brush; A Cat Called Behemoth; Muted Lines; Tap Dance (for Baby Dodds); In Between the Moss and the Ivy; Be A Glow Worm.
Trish Clowes: saxophones, Chris Montague: guitar; Ross Stanley: piano/Hammond organ; James Maddren: drums.