Rōnin Arkestra ‘First Meeting’ Vinyl EP (Albert’s Favourites)

A new name to all when an unexpected digital single appeared online in February 2019, but this newly formed project is headed by Mark de Clive-Lowe alongside various members of the Japanese jazz scene including members of Kyoto Jazz Sextet, Kyoto Jazz Massive, WONK, Cro Magnon, Sleepwalker and Sauce81 but all produced by bandleader Mark de Clive-Lowe. This 4-track EP, which is very much a contemporary take on spiritual and deep jazz, is a forerunner to a future full-length album scheduled for an autumn 2019 release.

‘Stranger Searching’, as a precursor to the rest of the EP as blends the old with the new, that is, jazz sensibilities mixed with modern production qualities. The horn section of Shinpei Ruike, Kohei Ando and Wataru Hamasaki leads the way with MDCL’s floating piano chords used to confirm some of the changes, with the driving drum beat providing the rhythmic foundation. Additionally, the added light synth tones provide a sense of modernity to the track. The shortest track of the set at 4’48”, ‘Redeye Reprisal’ is again a very brass heavy composition but here drummer Hikaru Arata is particularly strong as he displays his proficient jazz drumming chops with his double-time accents riding over the frantic 7/4 time signature.

‘The Silk Road Prelude’ is definitely a journey indeed with its extended musical sections, loose arrangement and dynamic playing by all concerned, which includes the hypnotic bassline of Shinju Kobayashi which alongside the rest of the rhythm section which underpins MDCL’s excellent piano work. At the midpoint, guitarist Tsuyoshi Kosuga offers a timely melodic solo before the bass and drum groove take over for the final few minutes.

The final track is the Coltrane standard ‘A Love Supreme’. Covering one of the most acclaimed compositions in jazz history is a decision not to be taken lightly and it would be preposterous for the band to try to emulate the timeless modal classic. But here, the Rōnin Arkestra have chosen a far more contemporary approach with its use of hip hop type drums, audio filtering effects and sampled percussion blended with the unmistakable McCoy Tyner piano lines. Probably the free-ist track of the EP, with the horns and piano moving away from the usual musical grid within their later improvisational sections.

With MDCL drifting towards his cultural background with recent records, including his Japanese influenced ‘Heritage’ album released in January 2019 being a firm favourite at UK Vibe HQ, ‘First Meeting’ displays another opportunity for Mark de Clive-Lowe to showcase his virtuosity and current growth as a musician. And with this very accomplished set of musicians, the EP is an ideal vehicle for the band to also be in touch with their more experimental side, especially in contrast to many of their own records where they may be more conservative with regards their own creativity.

Damian Wilkes