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QOW Trio

The Hold Up

By Howard Lawes

One of the many great gigs at this year's EFG London Jazz Festival featured the venerable Charles Lloyd on saxophone and flute with piano and guitar making up his Ocean Trio. On the same bill, the youthful saxophonist Mette Henriette also played in a trio with piano and cello. Co-incidentally I saw the gig sitting next to Riley Stone-Lonergan and he was quick to point out that, unusually, neither trio included a drummer.  Riley is the tenor saxophone player in QOW Trio which features the very experienced drummer, Spike Wells and the versatile Eddie Myer on double bass. Writing about their 2021 debut album here, I explained that the explanation for the name of the trio is: "QOW, pronounced 'cow', the name of a track on the 1974 Dewey Redman album, Coincide. .... The original meaning of the title 'QOW' is difficult to pin down - perhaps it was just a term dreamed up by Dewey - but it is also an American military acronym for 'Quality Of Work' and so is totally appropriate here."


Many people's favourite jazz trio is the piano trio, consisting of piano, double bass and drums; examples include Bill Evans (Sunday at the Village Vanguard, 1961), or more recently Phronesis (Life to Everything, 2014). However, both drumless trios, as exemplified by Charles Lloyd and Mette Henriette, and chordless (piano-less) trios have a proud pedigree and when it comes to recordings by chordless trios one of the best examples is Sonny Rollins (Way Out West, 1957).  The record cover of Way Out West features Sonny Rollins as a gun-slinger, holding a saxophone rather than a gun, and with Sonny Rollins being one of Riley Stone-Lonergan's saxophone heroes, and QOW Trio being chordless, it is only natural that Riley would want to pay tribute to Rollins on QOW Trio's new album. Here is a taster:

Talking to Riley by telephone we discussed the background to the new album, The Hold Up, available on Ubuntu Music.  Apart from being chordless, the Trio is also multi-generational and it is clear that Spike Wells is greatly admired for his long history of playing with so many great British and American jazz musicians and the relaxed expertise that he brings to both recording sessions and live performance.  Eddie Myer also has a wealth of experience and a profound knowledge of music that he has gained from his many roles including composer, gig promoter, teacher, journalist and writer as well as double bass player. Riley represents the younger generation and together they bring a unique approach to music-making as presented in their new album where they combine a selection of Riley's compositions with intriguing versions of some favourite jazz tunes chosen by members of the band.


Harking back to Way Out West, there are some wild-west themed tracks, High Noon, The Hold Up and I'm An Old Qowhand, the first two being Stone-Lonergan originals while the third is a cover version of the track on the Sonny Rollins album. Listen to the title track The Hold Up:

Riley emphasises that the benefit of being a chordless trio is the freedom that is provided for improvisation and he freely acknowledges that his tunes are primarily composed as vehicles for all members of the band to cut loose and improvise as the mood takes them.  Those who witnessed their live performance at Jazz in the Round earlier in 2023, as I did, will confirm that QOW Trio are expert and exciting improvisers. Two further Stone-Lonergan compositions are called I Gotta Grape Drink and Bastard Gentlemen.  The former was suggested by Spike Wells and is a reference to a scene from the great 1971 film, The French Connection, which won a Grammy for Best Instrumental Arrangement in 1973 for jazz drummer Don Ellis.  The latter is a nod to a fantasy novel and demonstrates Riley and Spike's remarkable mutual understanding as first they play in unison and then individually as their dialogue becomes ever more frenzied.  Other tracks on the album are QOW Trio's take on classic tracks by other musicians, as suggested by members of the band, often because of some personal link with the original version or a version played by someone else.


One example is Hip Strut by Jackie McLean which Spike heard played by Bobby Wellins at Ronnie Scott's Club in 1965 and which inspired Spike to embrace jazz as a career. It led to a lifelong musical partnership and friendship between them as described by Spike on his website hereHard Times Come Again No More is a song by Stephen Foster (1854), originally a minstrel song, that has been arranged by Riley in memory of his father Phil Lonergan who used to sing it.  Eddie Myer suggested The Starcrossed Lovers (Strayhorn / Ellington) which comes from the Such Sweet Thunder (1957) album dedicated to the works of William Shakespeare. Another Eddie Myer suggestion was Lee Morgan's Our Man Higgins (Cornbread, 1965) which also featured Jackie McLean and the eponymous Billy Higgins on drums.


QOW Trio will be touring the album during February 2024: (later dates being added)

3rd - Brighton, the Verdict,

5th – Stroud, The Prince Albert,

6th - Leeds, Sela Bar

7th – Sheffield, The Lescar,

8th – Leicester Jazz,

9th – London, The Vortex and

12th  – Cheltenham Jazz.

A subsequent tour of Ireland in April and May will include

14th April – Dublin, Five Lamps Festival

3rd May – Derry Jazz Festival. 


A tribute is paid in the album credits here to Linley Hamilton who was both a mentor to the teenage Riley in Ireland and who runs, with Maggie Doyle, the rural music venue, Magy's Farm which hosted a memorable QOW Trio gig on a previous visit to Ireland. (See the Sandy Brown Jazz Tea Break with Maggie Doyle here)


QOW Trio thrive on live performance so make sure you catch them if they visit your city but if they visit Magy's Farm again it really will be a gig not to be missed. 

Here is High Noon from the album which is released on January 26th 2024. It can be pre-ordered here, but there will be further purchase details in the February issue of What's New at Sandy Brown Jazz.

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