Pianist Philip Clouts tours England and Scotland with his quartet in October to mark the release of a new album, Umoya, one of the first releases on the new jazz imprint of American classical label Odradek.
It’s an album that confirms the Cape Town-born Clouts’ ongoing love affair with South African music but also with rhythms and melodies from around the world. Influences including Sufi music, Nigerian dance rhythms and folk music from Romania and Southern Italy, as well as gospel music all figure, in his latest compositions.
“Jazz and world music have been important to me throughout my musical life,” says the now Dorset-based Clouts who emerged on the London jazz scene during the 1980s and became a key member of popular world jazz ensemble Zubop before moving to the Jurassic coast in 2006. “I’m inspired by both the freedom of jazz and the rootedness of world music with its sense of dance, community and spirituality. Listening to both genres always reveals a variety of approaches to rhythm, harmony and melody.”
Although he came over to the UK from Cape Town with his family as a young child in the early 1960s, Clouts grew up hearing the music of his homeland as his parents – his father, Sydney Clouts, was a poet whose work captured the South African landscape – had brought their favourite records with them.
After his two older brothers began taking piano lessons, he impressed the family by picking up what his siblings were playing by ear. He found himself drawn to improvising, and hearing the great British pianist Stan Tracey on a television programme when he was twelve attracted him to jazz and inspired him to take the instrument more seriously.
It was while studying anthropology at Cambridge University that Clouts realised that he really wanted to focus on contributing to his own culture. On returning to London he got the chance to play with and learn from musicians including pianist Bheki Mseleku, who became a mentor for a while, and percussionist Thebe Lipere, who joined Clouts in the first incarnation of Zubop.
“There was a lot of South African music on the London scene at that time in the 1980s,” he says. “I never saw the Blue Notes, who were the first wave, live because I was too young but there were bands that had grown out of them and were carrying on that same spirit that they’d brought over. Their saxophonist, Dudu Pukwana was a real force in those days and, of course, listening to the Blue Notes’ pianist, Chris MacGregor’s Brotherhood of Breath was a huge inspiration.”
Clouts’ current quartet features saxophonist Samuel Eagles, bass guitarist Alex Keen and the Yamaha Jazz Scholarship-winning drummer Dave Ingamells, all players who have, he says, taken to the multi-cultural mix at the root of his music with real enthusiasm.
“Umoya is the Zulu word for ‘life force’. It can also be translated as ‘soul’ and ‘spirit’ and I’m really pleased with the way Sam, Alex and Dave brought these aspects out in the music on the album,” says Clouts. “We’ve played a couple of dates on the tour already and I’m really looking forward to the stretch of concerts beginning with the album launch in London on the 17th because they’ll give us a chance to really develop the music.”
Sat 17 Oct: Album Launch Concert at Café Posk, London
Fri Oct 23: Bridport Arts Centre
Sat Oct 24: Zefirelli’s, Ambleside, Cumbria
Sun Oct 25 Number 39, Darwen, Lancashire (3pm start)
Mon 26: Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Tue 27: “Sounds in the Suburbs” Glasgow
Wed 28: Carnegie Hall, Dunfermline
Thur 29: Blue Lamp, Aberdeen
Fri Oct 30: Capstone Theatre Liverpool