Words by Anna Whittaker
Eastside Jazz Club is a new venue inside Birmingham Royal Conservatoire at Birmingham City University. Given the gig started at 6.30pm and was set in a university building, I was prepared to feel like I was still at work and be horrified by the lack of alcohol.
In fact, there is a cafe bar, from which you can take your drinks through to the venue, and they even do a little bit of food. Actually with the lighting and seating, it feels less like a lecture theatre-cum-practice room and less like a typical jazz club replete with sticky floor, general trodden in smell and dingy bar in the corner. The band gets loads more room than you see at most places, and the acoustics are great. Get here early for a seat.
Trampette, the support band of students at the Conservatoire, come on stage at 6.30pm. They’ve only been playing together since the summer but Tom Harris, Tommy Fuller, Josh Savage and Kai Chareunsy have a funky sound with songs based on your typical student things like a game of Jenga that went horribly wrong. It’s an interesting combo of keyboard/grand piano and bass guitar, with a drum kit and percussion section featuring bongos and a beat box to modernise the sound. Guest singer, Rebekah Wilkins, brings another dimension, and sounds beautifully like Melody Gardot. The best thing is they are definitely enjoying themselves. Trampette are also joined by a tenor sax player Harry Lear, for ‘Chickpea Mash’ they regularly stay with a slow rhythm then switch on the offbeat to more upbeat with impeccable timing on those pauses.
Talented saxophonist and composer, Trish Clowes, tours with her new quartet, My Iris. Clowes plays tenor and soprano sax with the accompaniment of Chris Montague on guitar, Ross Stanley on piano and Hammond Organ, and James Maddren on drums. Evocative and dreamy, Trish Clowes and My Iris build up slowly to an entrancing wall of sound as an intro to a much funkier guitar-led beat. There’s quite a lot of instrument switching going on but it’s smooth. The improv is fast but coordinated, reminding me a little bit of Ken Peplowski as there is a lot of doodle-oodle going on but it then fades into what seems to be her classic style on this album which sounds like the end of a rain storm. The puddles of sound keep coming, and actually this isn’t quite like any other jazz; with plenty of tempo switches. Clowes mixes in new material to the album My Iris released last year.
Next up is a ballad that makes the most of the gorgeous sounding grand piano. If you had to sum up the style of this set, perhaps ‘dreamy’ and ‘echoes’ would be the sort of words you would use. The piano solo in this piece is stunning to the point where the audience barely dare breathe; it’s reminiscent of Debussy. ‘Lightning Les’ finishes the first set and sounds like a barge coming through with discordant tones; you could be forgiven for thinking that the main chords were being played by an inexperienced clarinetist, blowing too hard and aiming at setting your teeth on edge, but it’s certainly a unique sound.
James Maddren’s drum solo provides some relief. But for some this might prove a little bit too experimental although it’s certainly not derivative in any way, and each musician is clearly highly talented; they meld together well, but it’s not relaxing listening. It would be nice to hear a few more solos from Clowes herself, amongst the bridges and twirls of the other artists, and we get a bit more of that towards the end of this piece on her tenor sax.
The start of the second set is more moody with just sax and piano before getting more boisterous. They’ve got sheet music in front of them, but I’d love to know how the ensemble get what they play from a mere couple of pages of scribble. This is more of a foot tapper and intriguing in its melodies. The older chairs in the audience all sit forward and start nodding in their seats, ‘Eric’s Tune’ is hitting the jazz nerve. Tap Dance (for Baby Dodds) is next, continuing the drum theme. This tune indeed has a tap dancing undercurrent throughout, with lead solo on tenor sax; it’s jumpy, it’s rhythmic while somehow mellow at the same time.
There is definitely something special about the weird wobbly sound of a Hammond organ that introduces the next piece, but what we didn’t expect was Clowes to do vocals rather than sax, in a sort of sound poem. This is really different, and such a contrasting intro to what comes next – an up tempo syncopation with echoes of the sax followed through on the piano. Tuning up the sustain on the guitar it’s very atmospheric; the moody ending is what makes them unmistakable.
Finally, ‘A Cat Called Behemoth’: the organ and guitar are the rhythm of its giant paws, the sax it’s swaggering walk, and the drums are fizzing the sound of each tensed muscle and especially every hair in his fluffed out tail. The students are amazingly attentive, by now mine are out on Sports Night ten sheets to the wind and don’t know what they’re missing.
My Iris is a completely unique sound, inspired by Clowes’ grandmother and messenger from Roman and Greek mythology (as well as a song called ‘Iris’). But as Trish Clowes says, Iris kept coming up from all directions as inspiration, like the many colours from the instruments her band.
For more on Trish Clowes’ My Iris, visit www.trishclowes.com
For more on Trampette, visit www.facebook.com/trampetteband
For more from Jazzlines, visit www.thsh.co.uk/whats-on/org/jazzlines
For more events from Eastside Jazz Club and Birmingham Conservatoire, including venue details and links to online ticket sales, visit www.bcu.ac.uk/conservatoire/events-calendar