A View With a Room

Trish Clowes

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A View With a Room Review

by Thom Jurek

British saxophonist, composer, and academic Trish Clowes has composed for various groups including the London Sinfonietta and the BBC Concert Orchestra and she leads and records with both a jazz band and as a solo artist. Since 2016 she's been leading the quartet My Iris, that includes longtime drummer James Maddren, guitarist Chris Montague, and organist/pianist Ross Stanley. A View with a Room is her fourth outing with this quartet, and her debut for Dave Douglas' Greenleaf Music. Since releasing 2017's My Iris, Clowes' writing has moved from exploring pronounced harmony for group interplay and dynamic rhythmic invention, to creating fertile space for kinetic, sophisticated improvisation. A View with a Room is, by contrast, more focused on organically emanating grooves emerging from accessible compositions. Most of the tunes here were composed during the pandemic for performance during live-streamed lockdown shows.

The title-track opener offers a popping snare shuffle, single tenor notes, and a tight, six-note vamp from Ross Stanley's piano. As the snare breaks engage him, chunky guitar chords add ballast and Clowes begins to solo. Her self-imposed frame is harmonically restrictive but brings her bandmates into her wealth of melodic ideas. They don't merely comp but join the creative process. Stanley's solo delivers punchy twists and turns along the middle register, almost like a sonic mirror image. "The Ness," composed for filmmaker Rose Hendry's documentary on the East Neuk of Fife coastline in Scotland, is a graceful, brooding composition wedged between fat guitar vamps, funky drums, and a piano that ties them together yet diverts elliptically from their driving grooves. Clowes' solo bridges these statements. She plays off Stanley's harmonic attenuations as the tune moves into dramatic territory. "Morning Song" begins as a dirge before Clowes shifts the tenor's lilt to deliver marvelous expressionist balladry saturated in blues, Michel Legrand's film music, and the sensuousness of Claude Debussy's chamber work. Montague adds biting short lines for textural depth as Stanley offers a nearly pastoral cinematic statement. "No Idea" finds the guitarist laying out spiraling post-bop lines as Stanley adds low-register dramatic chords and Maddren double-times the band with cracking feints and taut snare breaks. "Ayanna" spends its first half as an intro in search of a composition. A lithe yet pulsing piano riff sets the band off in search of a secret center which they discover about five minutes in; they swirl together, exploring the various pockets of spacious, web-like harmony from the inside. "Time" is also cinematic in breadth and depth. Clowes' luscious tenor solo glides atop a loping piano chord progression and majestic, soulful legato phrasing as guitars and drums shuffle and breathe around them, punctuating tags and expanding the base for melodic exploration. A View with a Room is a collection of subtly rendered, musically ambitious compositions written specifically to the strengths of Clowes' musicians. The result is a mysterious yet utterly gratifying exercise in collective harmonic interplay, post-bop lyricism, and modal inquiry balanced by elegant, exploratory, and intimate improvisation.

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