The Nonsemble

Live at The Blue Whale Little Tokyo – DTLA

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It should come as no surprise that a few of us from THE NONSEMBLE have been to so many of Mark de Clive-Lowe’s live shows. We have been checking him out since we helped present / promote his first trip back in . . . the day. That was well over a decade and a half ago. At that point, we’d been following him and his music for a nice, long while. We haven’t really let up in the time that we’ve known him since.

His last ‘solo’ full-length – a two-LP set released months apart – is called “HERITAGE”. The entire project is a walk into and down his very personal memory lane. Mark, born and raised primarily in New Zealand, is also – very much – the child of a Kiwi Father and Japanese Mother.

Mark’s mother was born and raised in Japan and throughout his life, he’s had the honor and privilege of a truly bi-racial and multi-cultural upbringing.

The Artist’s childhood home in New Zealand was a tip of the hat and scales to his Mother’s homeland. With architecture, gardens and household touchstones at every turn, Mark grew up as much a child of his maternal bloodline as any other – geography notwithstanding.

In was in that house that Mark first began classical training on his family piano… and it was during frequent and regular trips to Japan to visit with his extended family and friends that Mark first found a connection and a lifelong love for his Japanese roots.

All of these puzzle pieces have come together fittingly for the deeply personal, HERITAGE [parts I and II].

Going back a few years – Mark seemed filled with glee and high expectation when he first told us about the piece he had planned for a presentation commissioned by the programming staff at L.A.s GRAND PERFORMANCES. At the time, Mark cheerily described his plans to imbue his history and heritage into a hybrid that reflected his life and career. Age-old traditional Japanese instrumentation blended with contemporary jazz and orchestral touches and his own unique blends of Neo-Soul, Jungle, Broken Beat and – more… Dilla. Dego. Davis. It is all in.

We made it out to that initial presentation at Grand Performances. A very L.A. early evening on a warm summer night.

‘T’was a beautiful thing… We have made a point to watch the project grow and bubble, mold and mend ever since.

For two nights last week [13/14.SEP.2019] Mark de Clive-Lowe brought his HERITAGE back to The Blue Whale – ‘The Scene of the Time’. The two-part album was originally recorded in this space… a cozy jazz room that sits – quite fittingly – smack dab in L.A.’s Little Tokyo District.

For the reappearance, Mark reimagined and rearranged his future classic piece, for the live album recording sessions, brass journeyman, Joshua Johnson, and brass-master Teodross Avery delivered absolutely brilliant horn work over Mark’s textured compositions and layers of electronic keys, broken beats and masterful piano play. This time around a four-piece string section held the frontline and – man-o-WOW, did THAT work out!!!

What the Maestro described on the night as a Piano “Trio augmented with Strings” is, in his own words, one of de Clive-Lowe’s very favorite band set-ups and – after the performances we saw that night – the same build just may become one of MY faves!

The band ran [rather well] through both of the albums from the HERITAGE Suite. The first part was lush with orchestral arrangements that could only have come out of the creator’s head. Strings have always been a key and core component of this music.

The original Grand Performance:

未来の歴史 MIRAI NO REKISHI / HISTORY OF THE FUTURE – MARK DE CLIVE-LOWE [26.AUG.2017]

Mark already had strings and electronics at the fore: Yumi Kurosawa played a 21-String Koto a traditional Japanese instrument and the absolutely mesmerizing Tylana Enomoto contributed Violin.

[Also on that first night, Shing02 provided Vocals over Vestax Faderboard, Kaoru Watanabe intertwined Shinobue Flutes and Tako Drums, while the more ‘Trad-Jazz’ rhythm section was handled by Mark’s frequent collaborators, Brandon Eugene Owens on Bass, Drummer, Tommaso Cappellato and the ubiquitous and beautiful brother Carlos Niño on additional percussion – portions of that original piece are available online, and WELL worth checking out!]

Several of those original bandmates were also in play for HERITAGE WITH STRINGS.

Brandon was back on Bass, joined by Carlos Niño and percussive interplay with ‘new’ drummer and another oft-seen co-player, Greg Paul [of L.A.’s own master collective, KATALYST]!

This new/alternative “STRINGS” frontline might be described as a turbo-charged Chamber Orchestra. Tylana Renga was back [thank goodness – we love her so], joined by a virtuoso, Chris Woods [also with Violin], an incredibly energetic Tom Lea, with his Viola and quite nicely rounded up and bottomed out by Heather McIntosh on cello.

From our seats in the front row for the first night, it was mad fun to share the excitement in the faces and body language of the various band members as they were each intermittently struck with awe and pride at their co-conspirators!

Several times it looked as if some of the Front Line players were ready to jump out of their seat watching another player solo! The smiles went wide on the bandstand at almost every change, bridge or ending… They all seemed so happy to be a part of the AUDIENCE for the show… even as they played and laid their hearts out for the regular peanuts in the gallery [we – the patrons of the eve]!

Mark’s playing – always theatrical, emotive and BANGING – was on! The moments when he would stand at the bench to work his live production magic on his electronics set-up were [also as usual] highlights in a night full of surprises!

Imagine – being surprised while watching y/our eleventeenth live performance of material you’ve listened to a brazzillion [brilliant] times!

There was a strongly cohesive quality to the performances. The band came in, sat down and went directly into the opener [of the show and of the first album] “The Offering”.

There was an immediate connection with the music, the space and everyone therein – on both sides of the microphones.

While the music was very close to the source materials. There were tricks and treats from the first moment, throughout.

I was able to foot-tap, finger-snap and lap-pat along to the music through most of the known/familiar parts of each song. I have to do that, sometimes, to stop myself from dancing along – which I have also been known to do from time to time – since time.

Mark’s shows, Jazz, Broken, Electronical and otherwise, often have that same move-inducing groove to them and this show was [yet another] one of those nights.

While not as detailed as previous shows – Mark took a few minutes, here and there, to introduce, explain, contextualize and/or share the story to the songs. The music stands quite well on its own – and his humor-inflected, clearly sincere and charismatic story-telling around and about the music adds [even further] layering and texture. The material really is as broad as it is deep – and even dank and dark – in some places.

When the time came for the heaviest string parts, including a few spirit-rousing solos, the difference[s] between this version of HERITAGE and m/any of the others were laid bare. It feels as if strings might have always held a more major part of this music – even if mostly inside of de Clive-Lowe’s head. From the outside listener… the string work added another layer that seems to speak further to the ‘Intention’ of Mark’s heritage… I’ve not listened to a wide array of traditional Japanese music, except to hear it here and there at specific cultural events and – as a matter of course – during my near-religious re-screenings of the old Kurasawa / Mifune classics that I watch[ed] and rewatch[ed] incessantly as a kid into adulthood and to this day.

It came as no surprise [to me] to see imagery, vid-loops and nods to those great Samurai films interspersed with Travis Flournoy’s [always] on-point artistic visuals. Note, I say “On-Point”, not too ‘on the nose’, since the musical offering visits themes and ideas of BUSHIDO [the code of the Samurai] and NITEN-ICHI [inspired by the two-sworded fighting method of Miyamoto Musashi, the revered and iconic Samurai Statesman and renaissance artisan of Japanese lore]. The black and white footage of Toshiro Mifune battles is a perfectly suited accouterment.

The moral of this long and loving story is this: Mark de Clive-Lowe – HERITAGE with STRINGS was a wonder-filled nightcap on the long party that the original concept, stunning album, and various subsequent performances have provided.

If you get a chance to see this version of HERITAGE live – take the chance.

If Mark releases this STRING-ed iteration – Put me on the list – and get in on the queue.

If you get ANY CHANCE to see Mark de Clive-Lowe produce, present and play live – GO!

… and if you don’t already have the HERITAGE album[s] – ROPEADOPE 2019… get your hands on both volumes – ASAP!