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

“Heritage: transmissions from the past to the future; a legacy that we receive from our ancestors and have to pass on to future generations.”

Now, I love my family dearly etc. but I feel incredibly fortunate, as a listener, that this album is forged from de Clive Lowe’s cultural roots and not mine. I’m 100% sure that compositions inspired by, half-Japanese half-New Zealander, de Clive Lowe’s childhood folk stories, the mythology of his motherland and his own personal experiences in Japan may bring a touch more creative richness than that of a football supporting, Heavy Metal-abused, generation-on-generation Midlander…Although, a concept album detailing the ups and downs of the 1993 Leicester v Swindon play-off final may have some niche appeal…

Anyway, I digress to start. On “Heritage”, de Clive-Lowe (piano, Rhodes, synths, live electronics, programming) is joined by a cast of world-class musicians: Josh Johnson (alto sax, flute), Teodross Avery (tenor sax), Brandon Eugene Owens (bass), Carlos Niño (percussion), Brandon Combs (drums) who have performed with the likes of Leon Bridges, Esperanza Spalding, Talib Kweli, Mos Def, Robert Glasper, Moses Sumney etc. We are also blessed by the tone-setting album artwork of Tokio Aoyama; beautiful executed, tender, detailed, introspective, modestly spiritual and overtly naturist.

“The Offering” is the flowing, sonic emboldenment of Aoyama’s artwork. It is respectful, restrained and introspectively spiritual. de Clive-Lowe’s piano floats up layers of deep, connected heart, (interestingly, not unlike Sakamoto at his most connected) and the chaps build on this to create a space for reverent reflection. Soul-mending, structured mindfulness.

“Bushidō” is the code of great warriors. It has a serious, purposeful self-motivation driven by Combs/Owens which shrugs off, and is punctuated by, Niño’s percussion and de Clive-Lowe’s electronic whistles, gurgles and battling lazers. Piano and sax motif and solo; forging a personal path to accountable self-improvement.

“Memories of Nanzenji” is gorgeous. Harmonious, contemplative Rhodes, splashing, reaching upwards yet remaining totally balanced. It is at-one with the beauty, spirit and life found in the garden’s of the Nanzenji temple in Kyoto.

“Mizugaki” is de Clive Lowe’s mother’s family name and in ancient folkloric Japan was a natural wall of trees that would protect a deity’s abode. It’s a story of several short chapters – initially tentative piano and wind-like percussion; then an energised, expansive sax-off; finally an uplifting, thematic unveiling of the deity’s treasure.

“Akatombo” is literally short and sweet. It is 2 minutes of de Clive-Lowe’s personal, solo piano revisiting of a very famous Japanese folk-song and it’s lovely.

“Niten-Ichi” is back in warrior territory; inspired by the stories of Miyamoto Musashi, the greatest of all samurai warriors. The mood has changed; de Clive-Lowe’s piano vigilant and calmly combative, while the sax bring dark, focused, elegantly flowing agility. A powerful, brooding, blusterless, funky battle ensues; there’s only ever going to be one victor. Applause at the 5 minute mark is the first indication that this is a live performance. Remarkable.

“Asa no Yume” means “morning dreams” and that’s exactly what it is. Johnson, Avery and de Clive-Lowe’s sunlight is glimpsing through the curtains as we start a new hopeful day on the cloud-like, cotton-wool bed of Combs, Owen and Niño. Delightful, honest, connected, respectful musicianship from start to end.

Heritage is a moment to stop and breathe; to reconnect with your soul and place, irrespective of whether you’re a 78th generation Midlander in Oxfordshire or a half-Japanese, half-New Zealander in LA.

Ian Ward