A fresh look at jazz with My Iris

A fresh look at jazz with My Iris
Trish Clowes brings My Iris to Triskel in Cork tonight as part of an Irish tour.

Trish Clowes is a 33-year-old English saxophonist and composer who perfectly exemplifies the strength, energy and ambition of the jazz scene in Britain right now, writes Philip Watson.

Over the course of four strikingly inventive albums, Shrewsbury-born and London-based Clowes (it’s pronounced “clues”) has mixed a love of offbeat melodies, rich harmonies, solid grooves, and a passion for both improvisation and classical orchestration, into music at once immediate and winningly enigmatic.

That she is inspired above all by the music of Wayne Shorter, one of jazz’s most original thinkers and intriguing composers, only serves to fascinate further.

Unlike many of her contemporaries, Clowes is drawn to a sense of lyricism, grace and quiet experimentation, and to group interplay that is expansive yet conversational. “I like music that explores a lot of colours and textures, that is open to interpretation, to people’s imaginations,” she says.

As well as being professor of jazz saxophone and improvisation at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, Clowes has recently launched a new project called My Iris. A versatile quartet – with Chris Montague on guitar, Ross Stanley on piano and Hammond organ, and James Maddren on drums – that takes Clowes’s already adventurous music to many new terrains.

If I could play with one jazz great from the past, it’d be…

“Lester Young, in a small club in New York at the end of the 1940s. I just love his tone and technique – he sounds so melodic and so giving, yet at the same time his playing is so intricate and complex. He has inspired a lot of the saxophonists I’m really in to – Wayne Shorter, Joe Lovano and Charles Lloyd, for example. It all comes back to Lester.

Three jazz albums that everybody should listen to…

“Wayne Shorter, Footprints Live! (2002): Hearing this quartet live in London in 2001, when I was 17, was an important musical moment for me. The vulnerability, edginess and playfulness in Wayne’s sound, the level of interaction between the players, and the risk-taking and sense of space, totally blew me away.

Then I got this record and listened to it solidly for about the next two years.

Geri Allen, Home Grown, (1985): A solo piano album that has incredible energy, spirit, strength of ideas, and is just so individual. It’s insane.

Lester Young with the Oscar Peterson Trio (1958): Lester Young and Oscar Peterson are two jazz legends, but they were very different personalities, and the musical dialogue between them is fascinating. Another album I’ve listened to an awful lot.

And three records from other areas of music…

“Prince and the Revolution: Parade Joni Mitchell: Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter D’Angelo and the Vanguard: Black Messiah

All these albums offer music of many different layers. You can play them once and enjoy them. But the more you listen, the more you hear different sound-worlds, different approaches to harmony, orchestration, even drumming. It’s joyous music, yet Prince, Joni and D’Angelo all address some darker, more serious issues too.

The emerging jazz star that everybody should watch out for is…

“Emma-Jean Thackray is a really interesting composer, trumpet player and producer who mixes all kinds of elements – such as improvisation, beats, Ethio-jazz, psychedelic and manipulated sounds – to create something that feels totally different, totally her own thing.

The best live jazz act in the world right now is…

“I saw the American trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire and his quartet, with the incredible Justin Brown on drums, at Ronnie Scott’s in London recently and the spirit and intensity of the band was absolutely amazing. Not only are they stunning individual players, with great instrumental ability and a sense of freedom and depth, but they all have a great commitment to the groove, which really moves people. It was inspiring.

Trish Clowes’s My Iris plays Triskel Cork tonight, before moving to Bray, Sligo and Wexford; musicnetwork.ie

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