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Trish Clowes
Ninety Degrees Gravity

by Howard Lawes




Arrival movie poster


The title of Trish Clowes' new album, Ninety Degrees Gravity, relates to scenes in the Denis Villeneuve 2016 film Arrival where humans who enter an alien space craft find themselves in the company of aliens with a different language. In the movie, Amy Adams plays Louise Banks, a linguist, who with physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Rinner) begins researching the aliens' written language of symbols. After misunderstandings where interpretation of the symbols is misread as a threat, Donnelly and Banks discover the true message and avert the impending conflict (click here for more about the movie). In an interview with Kevin Le Gendre for Jazzwise magazine Trish Clowes described her views about the important role of music in films and how Arrival with its themes of language, translation and dialogue fired her imagination to compose some of the tracks on her new album.


Here is a clip from the movie.



The word language is used a lot in the arts in general and jazz in particular. Stevie Wonder in the song Sir Duke (i.e. Duke Ellington) sang "music is a world within itself, with a language we all understand", echoing the quote from the poet and Harvard Professor Henry Wadsworth Longfellow who famously said, “Music is the universal language of mankind.”  A recent study (Form and Function in Human Song, Mehr et al, Current Biology Vol 25,3) seems to confirm that ideas conveyed by song are widely understood so that a love song, lullaby, healing song and dance are songs with which people all across the world can identify.  It seems likely, although no one has done this research, that if the Trish Clowessame techniques were used in a jazz context, i.e. snippets of music were played, then few apart from serious jazz fans would be able to identify the mood of the piece let alone the musician.  For the uninitiated jazz sometimes seems like a foreign language without an easy to use phrasebook and yet as Clowes implies it can be a highly effective way of creating a mood, particularly in films of the "noir" genre such as Round Midnight and Ascenseur Pour L’échafaud.  Less successful perhaps have been more recent films explicitly about jazz musicians.

Jazz musicians often talk of musical conversation, exchanging ideas and feeding off each other for inspiration, this is a language which takes a long time to learn.  In a similar way to spoken language the language of jazz reflects the culture from which it emerged and for Clowes one of her greatest influences was tenor saxophonist, Wayne Shorter.  Shorter was a member of bands such as Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, famed for their hard bop style; also the Miles Davis Quintet during Davis's modal period and Joe Zawinul, the leader of the great fusion band Weather Report.  One of the tracks on Ninety Degrees Gravity is Eric's Tune dedicated to the Weather Report drummer Eric Gravatt.


Trish Clowes



Another language concept relates to the rapport between long-standing members of a band.   Trish Clowes' band, My Iris, is Trish Clowes (tenor saxophone and vocals), Ross Stanley (piano, organ), Chris Montague (guitar) and James Maddren (drums).  Montague and Maddren have been playing with Clowes since the 2010 release of her first album Tangent, while Stanley joined the band for the 2017 release My Iris, which like all Clowes' albums has been released on Basho Records.  Such an experienced group provides mutual confidence allowing individuals to experiment and shine, another track on the album called Lightning Les highlights the talents of Ross Stanley on Hammond Organ with a Leslie Tremolo Unit attached.

Perhaps to emphasise the fact that language occurs in many forms the track I.F., which celebrates the birth of children to two of the band members, includes the babies' voices and it may just be a coincidence but one of the most popular poems in the English language is called If by Rudyard Kipling. 


Listen to I.F.





Clowes adds another element of language to her album by singing on part of track Free To Fall, a title which again emphasises her admiration of Wayne Shorter whose 2013 Blue Note album was called Without A Net.

My Iris


While the film Arrival inspired the album title there is only one track, Abbott And Costello, that is directly inspired by the film, and this track has in its turn inspired a short film of its own.  In Arrival the humans are confronted by alien creatures with whom they try to communicate and with typical Hollywood style, the aliens are named 'Abbott' and 'Costello' (while in the book on which the film is based (Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang) the aliens were named 'Flappe' and 'Raspberry'). 

My Iris


This is not the only difference between book and film but the essential question "if you know the future can you keep it from happening" is common to both.  The process of altering the future of a piece of music must surely have endless fascination for an improvising musician and Trish Clowes and her band clearly revel in playing with textures, dynamics and sounds to produce their widely praised performances.  Abbott And Costello is a beautiful, atmospheric duet between Clowes on tenor saxophone and Stanley on piano with Maddren's drums providing the rhythmic foundation for sublime melody.




Listen to Abbott And Costello.




All the tracks on the album are composed by Trish Clowes and her music provides plenty of variety with some lovely melody interspersed with robust improvisation. Trish Clowes clearly gives a lot of thought to her music and is very conscious of its place in the wider world, her band, My Iris, provide great support for her and are also given plenty of scope to shine individually.

Click here for details and samples of the album. Click here for Trish Clowes' website.


Ninety Degrees Gravity album


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Other pages you might find of interest :

The Journey of Lionel Loueke
Phronesis - We Are All
Video Juke Box
Jazz As Art

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