[17 July 2014]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
When Mark de Clive-Lowe collaborated with the Rotterdam Jazz Orchestra for Take the Space Trane, the sound of the music was about equal parts jazz and electronic. For Church, the needle is bending more towards the electronic side of things. Jazz elements are still present, but you walk away from the hour-long Church remembering everything else. “Fusion” is no longer an apt word to use for the man’s music since jazz enthusiasts tend to think of that as a jazz/rock or jazz/funk hybrid. What Mark de Clive-Lowe is doing on Church is something bigger and broader. It starts as a jazz album. Then it quickly trips into a rabbit hole, snagging roots of hip-hop, funk, world music, musique concrète, electronic avant-garde and EDM all the way down. And it’s a real plus that the album doesn’t sound like a mess. Mark de Clive-Lowe pulls it off as if it were just another style someone does on the street for pocket change.
Church has a few guest vocalists, accentuating the flavor you get with many a jazz crossover effort. Nia Andrews keeps her soulful voice neatly tucked inside the mix on “Now or Never”, “Hollow” and “Distractions”. Contra Mestre Xingu is subtly sampled into “Nova Roda”. “Sun Up Sun Down” has a restrained rap from theeKIDICARUS and John Robinson extols the musical virtues of Mr. de Clive-Lowe in a tight rhyme on the opener “The Mission”. And the outside help doesn’t end there. Mark de Clive-Lowe has pulled together eleven other musicians the sax, flute, viola, trumpet, guitar, bass, drums, harp and trombone. The star of the show handles electric and acoustic pianos, a synth bass, live electronic manipulation, sampling and programming. When I say that Church is not a mess, I guess you just have to take my word for it. Just know that I’m being serious.
Beyond the little details, describing Church as an overall work of art is difficult. If de Clive-Lowe is following any rules, they are variations of his instincts as an electronic musician. On the subject of improvisation, jazz and electronic musics have some overlaps. Hip-hop is, after all, celebrates its music, art and life as improvisation in flight. But it’s hard to imagine a track like “Brukstep” coming to life at it revolved around a chart. Instead, it was likely sculpted from the plethora of sounds that de Clive-Lowe had access to.
And it’s a good thing that he does. For some electronically-inclined musicians and producers, the studio becomes a playground dominated by them where they just run amok and no kids want to come over and play. Mark de Clive-Lowe steers miles wide of such obnoxious behavior. Church is unpretentious, earnestly rooted in all of the things we genuinely enjoy in jazz hybrids. Also, it’s a great reminder that de Clive-Lowe is a musical force unlike any other. As much as I enjoyed Take the Space Trane, I also enjoy the fact that he may have topped it.