CD Review: Philip Clouts Quartet – The Hour of Pearl

Philip Clouts Quartet – The Hour of Pearl
(Point Records PCD026. CD Review by Alison Bentley)

British pianist Philip Clouts’ new album evokes the spirit of place. Born in South Africa, he draws on music from that background and other cultures, fused with jazz in this captivating album.

Delta is a portmanteau title bringing together music from the Middle East with the blues. (It alludes to the Nile and Mississippi Deltas, and even a Cuban rhythm born in a Nigerian river delta). Clouts’ piano opens somewhere between McCoy Tyner and Abdullah Ibrahim, with an insistent groove. As Carlos Lopez-Real’s sax brings in the theme, there’s a trace of 60s Blue Note Wayne Shorter. In the fast Afro-Latin central section, his phrases are springy and exciting, with a liquid tone recalling his mentor Dave Liebman. Jon Desbruslais’ excellent drum solo has a vibrant sound and is beautifully- recorded- you feel as if you’re sitting on the drum stool. Clef Mona opens with strong piano tremolo (like Tyner again) before the 6/8 folky tune, with its klezmer nuance. Clouts’ solo is uplifting, exploring patterns just behind the beat, always communicating simply and directly. Nyasa Lullaby uses a scale from an African thumb piano, recurring hypnotically among Desbruslais’ atmospheric percussion as the sax theme floats overhead. Lopez-Real can sound a little like Courtney Pine- the latter’s sweet, Caribbean-influenced side.

Several tracks have a meditative quality, in particular the The Hour of Pearl–  Steinbeck’s phrase describing the dawn, ‘when time stops and examines itself.’ Written during a snowfall, the repeated piano phrases are like flakes drifting behind the plaintive sax line. It epitomises Clouts’ considered writing: piano and bass in unison for a few bars; sax and piano harmonising Jarrett/Gabarek-style. The sections build subtly to an affecting moment, where the pensive piano solo merges into the sax theme. In As Evening Falls, time seems to stand still. Lopez-Real sounds as if he’s singing the lines of his solo between the sensitive piano fills. The gentle bossa groove invokes Jobim; the chord sequence takes you to unexpected places but always back home. Alex Keen’s melodic bass solo has an unhurried quality that allows his rich tone full expression. In Riptide the piano is mimetic: the wave-like arpeggios run into the splash of the cymbals, over a gentle township groove.

Clouts lives near the Dorset coast, and On West Hill is named after his street: a clear, bright optimistic township-style piece. Lopez-Real gets right into the rhythmic corners, the long lines cossetted between the bluesy Oscar Peterson-ish piano voicings. Flamingo-ing’s lively calypso melody (in 7/4) is carefree; sunny piano/sax harmonies move in simple riffs through the key changes.

From South Africa to Dorset, this fine album conjures a range of moods and places- from the joyful to the dreamy- with its thoughtful, intricate writing and superb musicianship.

CD Launch: Pizza Express Dean St., Sat Nov. 9th 1.30pm. (TICKETS)

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