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Interview: Philip Clouts

PUBLISHED: 09:42 30 March 2009 | UPDATED: 15:40 29 October 2010

Rob Garratt

Afro-bop pianist Philip Clouts plays jazz infused with the upbeat rhythms of his native South Africa. ROB GARRATT learnt about the groove.

Further listening: Philip Clouts Trio

Afro-bop pianist Philip Clouts plays jazz infused with the upbeat rhythms of his native South Africa. ROB GARRATT learnt about the groove.

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Taking time out from his award-winning worldbeat jazz septet Zubop, pianist Philip Clouts is bringing his newly-formed Quartet to the city.

The band combines his successful trio, with renowned F-IRE Collective saxophonist Carlos Lopez-Real.

His trio's debut album Direction South receiving glowing reviews for its blend of African rhythms and New Orleans carnival feel.

Playing groove-orientated world jazz, the music draws on Clouts' native South African and Latin rhythms, and is coming to Norwich Arts Centre.

t How's your quartet different to the trio?

“It's kind of the trio plus one, but the quartet is developing a character of it's own, Carlos has been working on and off with us for a good year and the quarter is the direction I am going in, there's a lot more opportunities in terms of counterpoint and harmony.”

t Does it take the pressure off you as a soloist?

“I am happy playing an evening with the trio, but I think from the audience's point of view it's nice to hear some variety.”

t Have you played in Norwich before?

“I played at the Arts Centre with my seven piece band Zubop a good while ago, it could be as much as 10 years.”

t So where did your career in music begin?

“I've probably been at it close on 20 years. My first major project was Zubop. At the end of the 80s I came across like-minded people who shared my love for South African jazz and all sorts of world music and we decided to form a band playing that sort of thing and a commitment to writing that sort of music. Zubop is still going. But it's sort of transformed to Zubop Gambia, which has got two Gambian musicians and a Zimbabwean singer. Zubop is the main part of my musical career, but not very long after that started I did feel that being in such a big band I craved being in a more intimate setting and expressing myself as a pianist more. The trio's been going a good few years on and off, but that's just because most of my energy was going into the bigger project until then. More recently I had the idea of adding on more voice and having met Carlos and being excited by his playing, I brought him in.”

t And that influence came because you were born in South Africa.

“I was born in South Africa, but truth be told I was brought up in England and my parents came here when I was still a baby. But they kept a strong connection with the culture there. My father was a poet and was quite well known there, and the music they played was all the South African greats, I was brought up listening to that stuff and it still feels like the music of home. I have lived the music that has come out of South Africa. I saw Abdullah Ibrahim when I was still a teenager and it had a big effect on me.”

t What about the western jazz musicians that have influenced you?

“I spent a lot of my early career in the thrawl of Keith Jarrett, and also Brad Mehldau who expressed similar things in a different way. I do love straight forward groove players like Horace Silver and Monty Alexander. I love listening to music with a groove so as well as South African influences there's also a lot of Latin ones. I did have a phase of playing in a samba band.”

t That must have been quite a different ethos?

“It's a very specific way of playing, it's got its own rules and style.”

t How would you sum up what you'll be doing at the Arts Centre to someone who's not heard you before?

“I often call it music with a groove, there's a strong rhythmic under-point to what we do. There's two sounds coming out of my compositions - there's a sound that is just going for direct impact which is harmonically straight forward and effective. The other is about finding harmonic variations - I like taking a single note and finding harmonies on it and can build up a whole tune with them. I like the ambiguity and playing around and making different harmonies. They tend to be the gentler pieces, there's a couple in waltz time and a ballad, that's the quieter side. A lot of the music is as close as you can get to party music in the context of jazz.”

t You're working on a new album?

“We're in the studio in April so we'll be warmed up from this tour, it should come out sometime this year.”

t Do you have any tips for aspiring musicians?

“Follow your inspiration, and be prepared to need an awful lot of practice.”

t The Philip Clouts Trio play Norwich Arts Centre on March 30.

Further listening: Philip Clouts Trio

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