Recording of the Week,
Trish Clowes - Ninety Degrees Gravity
The most rewarding aspect of writing a Recording of the Week review each week is that it forces me to sit down for an hour, ignore the emails and actually listen to things I might not otherwise get around to. I have heard bits and pieces of Trish Clowes’s music in the past but hadn’t properly focussed on what she does (and why), so this has been a welcome ear-opener for me. Ninety Degrees Gravity is Clowes’s fifth album for Basho Records and the second with her current band My Iris, so I clearly have some catching up to do.
First of all there is a fairly esoteric back story to wrap your head around forNinety Degrees Gravity, with Clowes’s inspiration coming partly from Denis Villeneuve’s sci-fi epic ‘Arrival’, which posits the question as to how humans will communicate with aliens. Clowes draws a parallel with the scene in which the main characters enter the alien’s pod - and the subsequent reality dissolving mind-flip that it entails - to the abstract language of music and the telepathic communion musicians have. Crikey! Good job I’m a sucker (or Philip K. Dick) for this kind of conceptual navel gazing, so I’m happy to go with it, and these themes are discreetly played out in the music. In fact as the album progresses space clearly is the place Clowes is taking us, and in some ways the album is a more mellow take on the space themes explored on The Comet is Coming’s latest album on Impulse. My Sun-Ra-Dar in full effect here.
Beyond all of the conceptual trappings though, my first impressions were just how assured and fluent Clowes is as a player, holding my attention throughout. It must be tricky avoiding cliché in 2019, but Clowes has a mercurial technique and can seamlessly transition between spinning gorgeous long melodic lines into delicate arabesques and into more out-there playing. Sample the journey she takes us on within a single piece like Free to Fall. There’s clearly a strong Wayne Shorter influence in her playing, and the sci-fi influence reminiscent of Weather Report (early W.R. thankfully), but completely folded into her own vision. Opening track Eric’s Theme is even dedicated to Weather Report’s drummer Eric Gravatt, who played on most of the crucial early albums.
The record has a nice sense of flow and variety between pieces, indicating that Clowes clearly knows how to write to her bandmates’ strengths. Ross Stanley’s Hammond holds the bass duties, helping keep the textures lean, whilst lacking nothing at the bottom end - there’s even a song dedicated to the instrument in Lightning Les (a live recording, indicating how compelling the band must be on stage). Chris Montague’s guitar droplets evoked some of Henry Threadgill’s Zooid project, on guitar, and James Maddren keep the pulse inventively going through multiple time changes.
Arise has a nice pointillistic texture, with the group given plenty of space to slide about in, keeping a toehold on structure, whilst I.F. has some discrete Boards of Canada-esque baby samples drifting across adds a nice surreal vibe (music does have the right to children after all). All helping Clowes to deliver an album we can really get lost in, and which rewards repeated listens.