Mark de Clive-Lowe ‘Heritage II’ LP/CD (Ropeadope) 4/5

On ‘Heritage II’ LA-based producer and Jazz pianist Mark de Clive-Lowe completes his journey into his Japanese cultural heritage. The first part, ‘Heritage’ was released in February and part two will be released on the same day he performs in Hackney’s NT’s bar this April 5th (he also has an album launch show in LA later in the month). The material for both albums was recorded live over three nights at the Blue Whale Jazz Club in LA’s Japanese-American district Little Tokyo, with some recorded in the studio.

The music is well thought-out with most of the material being original, except for the arrangement of a traditional folk song. The concept of the album itself is interesting as it is influenced by Mark’s identity as a New-Zealander-Japanese person and takes influence from Japanese folksongs, stories and philosophies which are detailed on his Bandcamp page. Mark has travelled a lot since growing up in New Zealand and spent ten years living in London as a key figure in the UK’s Broken Beat scene from the late 90s, something which is still present in his contemporary work.

‘O Edo Nihonbashi’ is an arrangement of a folk song associated with the old workers’ bridges of Tokyo (Edo is the old word for Tokyo). Josh Johnson plays the mystical main theme on flute then moves on to the alto sax for some soloing which becomes beautifully unnerving when a detuned harmonizing effect is engaged. It is then combined with heavy bass and snare-driven J Dilla-influenced beat for a groove which will have your head rocking.

‘Ryugu-jo’ meaning ‘The Dragon place’, is in Mark’s own words ‘not the happiest of tales’ about a man who goes to the dragon world for 3 days only to return to the human world where it’s three hundred years in the future. This is the only track to have violinist Tylana Enomoto, and the result is very 70s fusion which is a big influence for Mark. Mahavishnu Orchestra springs to mind. The brooding bass provides a dark reference point for the piano to transcend the song’s parameters.

Throughout the album Mark adeptly uses sounds which instantly evoke a Japanese headspace, but it’s the programming effects he does on the fly which take the music to another, grittier and more underground place. From the pitch shifting to the oscillating repeats and audio glitching, it’s not what you expect to hear especially with something like Jazz which is usually perceived as pure. There’s a video well worth watching on YouTube of Mark demonstrating his skilful live technique for students. What’s blatantly clear from the outset is why Mark likes working with these musicians the most; they’re clearly talented Jazz musicians with an exotic and multi-genre Los Angeles sound. Songs like ‘Shitenno’ bring an exotic eastern flavour in a convincing and assured manner, shifting to modal Jazz Fusion and Neo-Soul grooves. It keeps interest up and feels innovative.

‘The Silk Road’ utilises both Alto (Josh Johnson) and Tenor (Teodross Avery) saxes for a hypnotising effect which will leave you transfixed by the song. Mark’s keys soloing is phenomenal, and he switches between piano and Rhodes for bell-like tone which draws the song to a close, juxtaposing the boisterous drums of Brandon Combs.

The album is something new and challenges perceptions of what Jazz is, which is why it feels so creative. Mark’s eclectic influences and his cultural outlook have produced what is a rich tapestry and a delight to experience.

Fred Neighbour

Read also: Mark de Clive-Lowe ‘Heritage’ LP/CD (Ropeadope) 5/5