Trish Clowes ‘My Iris’ (Basho) 5/5

This is the saxophonist’s fourth album for Basho Records and features her latest quartet which shares its name with that of the album title. This really is a powerhouse aggregation, featuring the cream of the current crop of British jazz musicians (or to carry forward the horticultural reference, Night Blooming Jazz Men, perhaps) Chris Montague is on guitar, the eponymous Ross Stanley on piano, alongside his more familiar Hammond organ and James Maddren is behind the drum kit. All three men are certainly no shrinking violets!
I have to agree with my fellow writer Dave Gelly, himself no mean saxophonist, when writing in The Observer that “with just four players, the variety of tone colour is remarkable”. Just like the colour variety of Irises. In addition to her abilities as a musician, Clowes is also a fine composer, being a BASCA British Composer Award winner.

Clowes is in turns warm-hearted, sprightly, introspective, graceful and pithy. Influences range from Wayne Shorter to Stan Getz and beyond.
I imagine that Clowes has an audacious sense of humour as exhibited in some of the titles that she gives her compositions. ‘I Can’t Find My Other Brush’ and ‘A Cat Called Behemoth’ are just two examples.
‘Muted Lines’ is a non-Clowes composition where the verse, an adaptation of a 16th Century Armenian poem, is sung by Clowes. This piece mirrors the grief of Armenian genocide and more recent atrocities in Eastern Turkey.
Montague’s electronic effects bring a contemporary sheen to what may otherwise have been an almost conventional sounding ‘In Between the Moss and Ivy”. This is a particularly outstanding performance by all concerned.

The opening piece on the album, ‘One Hour’ gets things under way in a very pensive mood with atmospheric organ and soprano saxophone. The soprano sound reminding me somewhat of the music of fellow saxophonist Theo Travis. Gradually, the intensity builds, as drums join and after a brief pause, guitar and acoustic piano enter with an altogether more sunny feel, the music taking on a freewheeling nature, until a wonderful guitar and saxophone unison statement after which the guitarist is allowed free reign, closely followed by the saxophonist.
‘Blue Calm’ is a playful sounding theme with the leader on tenor sax, negotiating the serpentine melody. What follows thereafter is pure musical perfection.
‘Tap Dance (For Baby Dodds)’ is great fun. With a fine bluesy solo from the guitarist, reminiscent of some of John Scofield’s best work.
All eight tracks on the album are masterpieces, many weaving delightful musical tapestries for the ears. Repeated listening reveals new delights. The many vivid colours of the Iris are evoked by the quartet.

Perhaps aptly, Iris may be being used in its capacity as an ambiguous colour term – ranging from blue-violet to violet. Aptly reflecting the many colours of music on display here. Or perhaps Trish is depicted here as the Greek goddess of the rainbow. But, more worryingly, I’ve discovered that there is a species of praying mantis which shares the name.
This album is really just one wonderful musical selection box, a cornucopia of musical riches.

Alan Musson