Our ‘Sitting In’ series invites guest artists to curate playlists for JAZZIZ.com. Today’s featured artist is Mark de Clive-Lowe.
Hybridity may be the buzzword in jazz right now, with waves of gifted young artists venturing out from the jazz mainstream into tributaries like hip-hop, R&B and house music. But for keyboardist-producer Mark de Clive-Lowe, musical hybridity has been a lifelong pursuit.
De Clive-Lowe first rose to prominence in the early 2000s as a DJ in London’s dynamic electronic music scene. Locally, he was an integral collaborator with the city’s most prolific DJ collectives, such as Bugz in the Attic and 4Hero, but as his international profile began to expand, he would move on to collaborations with artists like rapper Lauryn Hill, jazz vocalist Shirley Horn and bassist Pino Palladino. All the while, he has maintained a steady presence as a jazz pianist in the straightahead vein, and from his current home base in L.A., he continues to serve as today’s preeminent bridge builder between jazz and its neighboring genres.
De Clive-Lowe credits his eclectic taste and style to his upbringing. He was born in New Zealand to a Japanese mother and New Zealander father, and was first introduced to jazz through his father’s big-band record collection. He began playing piano shortly afterward, his passion ignited by artists like Ahmad Jamal, Miles Davis and Kenny Kirkland.
In high school, a friend turned him on to A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul and other members of the rap collective Native Tongue Posse, and before long, a full-on hip-hop obsession was born. Self-taught as a DJ and producer, he began tinkering with making beats of his own, using jazz as a foundation. “I loved the vibe and production of hip-hop,” said De Clive-Lowe, “but what I really loved was the samples. I had no idea at the time that these were samples of [jazz artists] Ronnie Foster and Max Roach, but once I realized that, something clicked.”
Soon enough, he began applying the techniques of hip-hop — live remixing, sampling, looping and synthesis — to his jazz performances, forging entirely new sounds in real time. He loved the combination of spontaneity and technology, even as he ventured into unkown territory. “I had no guide book, no YouTube,” said De Clive-Lowe. “I was just stumbling around in the dark. But there’s a lot to be said for finding your own way.” De Clive-Lowe insists that it was this abiding love of experimentation that would set the course of his career. In time, he would find his way into producer credits on more than 300 releases, including more than 20 of his own.
Now that crossover jazz is having its moment — as the popularity of hip-hop-friendly artists like drummers Makaya McCraven and Kassa Overall can attest — De Clive-Lowe’s name has taken on a more effulgent glow. Two recent releases have expanded his profile considerably. The first, #Bluenoteremixed Vol.1, found him projecting classic melodies from the Blue Note catalog through the prism of contemporary hip-hop. Its follow-up, Church, sought to replicate — in sound and spirit — the keyboardist’s famous DJ sets in New York and L.A.
In February 2017, De Clive-Lowe released the EP Live at the Blue Whale on Ropeadope/Mashibeats, which included tributes to Sun Ra, Yusef Lateef and others. His latest album is Heritage, which will be released on Feb. 8 and features tracks that explore his Japanese roots.
JAZZIZ asked De Clive-Lowe to curate the first playlist in the “Sitting In” series, in which we ask artists to share the tracks that most inspire them — presently and historically.
“I could easily compile a playlist of my favorite hard-bop records,” said De Clive-Lowe, “but there’s so much new stuff going on right now that pulls from this tradition in ways that are undeniable. If you listen to players like Shabaka Hutchings or the group Ill Considered, you can hear those influences in there, but in ways that are recontextualized. Believe me, these guys can all play standards, they know the language, but they’re taking the opportunity to find their own voice and contribute their own reflections on our music’s history. It’s like, ‘I love the tradition, but also fuck the tradition. And to really fuck the tradition, it has to come from a place of love.”
Mark de Clive-Lowe, “Memories of Nanzenji” from Heritage
“Nanzenji is a 13th Century temple in Kyoto,” says De Clive-Low. “Part of the temple grounds includes the Tenjuan Gardens – a picturesque setting to wander and soak in the beauty and balance of Japan. Everything there is intentionally designed to be in harmony with its surroundings. Even the most seemingly natural parts of the garden have been manicured to emulate nature’s own imperfections. When I visited Nanzenji, I felt such a deep connection there – the surrounds put me in an almost meditative state where the balance of nature and the intentional design of it all let me breathe out and allowed my mind and spirit to be free.”
Richard Spaven, “Helsinki Trio,” from Real Time
“Richard Spaven was my drummer for years in London. He’s always super fun to play with and explore the music – he’s an amazing musician.”
Makaya Mccraven, “Butterss’s,” from Universal Beings
“Makaya is all about spontaneous creativity. We’re very similar in that he loves his hip-hop as much as his Ornette and Ellington. Whatever it might be, to him, it’s all music.”
Ill Considered, “Tangled,” Ill Considered
“This group is totally great. I’m good friends with the bass player, Leon Brichard. They really represent that whole DIY scene from London 20 years ago, the idea of “Let’s just make some music.” You had this amazing bland of Caribbean West Indian and African influences that made for some incredible music.”
The Comet Is Coming, “Summon The Fire,” from Summon The Fire
“I’m so glad that [The Comet Is Coming member] Shabaka Hutchings has the platform he has at the moment. It’s important for the U.K. scene. Being in the U.K., we had a different perspective on things, and we could pull things apart and put them together in ways that weren’t restricted by being in proximity to the music’s history.”
Kassa Overall feat. Roy Hargrove, “La Casa Azul (feat. Roy Hargrove),” from Go Get Ice Cream and Listen to Jazz
“Kassa is an amazing drummer and a visionary artist. He’s truly bringing his vision to life on this new album. Roy Hargrove’s first record came out when I was in high school in Japan. I loved it. Roy came along with almost a 1950s sound to his music, but as he evolved, his relationship with groups like the Soulquarians seemed so obvious, like it had to happen. He was doing it all and then some.
Naima – Mark de Clive-Lowe – Leaving this Planet
Illusion – Andrew Hill – The Capitol Vaults Jazz Series
“I love Andrew Hill,” said De Clive-Lowe. “He changed the way I heard things. He’s so unorthodox. When I first heard this track — with the string arrangement, with its gritty feel — it just feels so funky and new. But as the track evolves, it’s so quintessentially Andrew. I wish we could hear more of Andrew in this mode, but there’s nothing else that’s quite like this.”
Tomorrow Never Knows – Dwight Trible – Tomorrow Never Knows
“Dwight was the first guy in L.A. to invite me to play in his band. I hadn’t played piano in 10 years. But Dwight would put on these shows that would channel guys like Leon Thomas and Pharoah Sanders, and I just had a blast playing in them. He was part of that spiritual jazz lineage that I absolutely love.”
Small Planet – Aaron Parks – Little Big
Cliche – Jeff Parker – The New Breed