‘Take The Space Trane’, out 4th February, is the new album from producer, composer and musician Mark de Clive-Lowe in collaboration with the Rotterdam Jazz Orchestra. Joining forces for the first time here, they deliver big orchestral jazz grooves with a nod to club productions for a modern, experimental take on the big band sound. The LP brings together bespoke compositions alongside existing cuts from across MdCL’s prolific career, plus a cover of the jazz standard, “Caravan” – all realised with traditional big band arrangements and instrumentation.
Japanese-New Zealander Mark de Clive-Lowe is a complex producer, keyboardist, composer and DJ. He embraced the piano at age four, soon becoming an accomplished Jazz musician. Before moving to LA last year, MdCL spent a decade in London where he honed his production skills working alongside the likes of Bugz In The Attic and Jody Watley. Having deployed his varied talents on more than 250 releases – both his own and in collaboration – he released his 14th solo album ‘Renegades’ on Tru Thoughts last year, featuring luminaries including Omar, Tawiah, Pino Palladino and Sheila E; continually touring, with his live improvised music shows, DJ sets and self-promoted jam night, Church (LA/NYC), he is becoming increasingly recognised as a lynchpin of the international live scene.
The idea for this project was born when MdCL met the trumpeter Rob van de Wouw at an improv festival where he was performing, in Rotterdam; on hearing him play, van de Wouw asked if he would guest with his big band. Having played in big bands back in high school in New Zealand, while cutting his teeth as a jazz pianist, MdCL seized the opportunity to revisit it from this whole new standpoint: “Big band was the sound of dance music in the ‘20s and ‘30s so to apply that aesthetic and sound to my own music was going to be fun”, he says.
In preparation, MdCL selected some of his own releases to be adapted to the band, wrote two new compositions especially, and chose one classic jazz standard – made most famous by Duke Ellington – to round out the repertoire. The RJO’s arranger and conductor, Johan Plomp, then created the arrangements, bringing the big band voice to the tunes. ‘El Dia Perfecto’ (originally out on Universal Jazz in 2000) was an obvious vehicle for this kind of project, with its horn-like melody lines and harmonies; but when he chose vocal cuts like “Money (Don’t Let It Catch Ya)” and “Relax…Unwind” – originally voiced by Bembe Segue and Abdul Shyllon, respectively – it was impossible for MdCL to imagine the big band arrangements. When he heard them for the first time, he says, “it was unreal! He’d taken the vocal melodies and harmonies and transposed those to saxophones, trumpets and trombones.”
The new compositions that MdCL wrote for the project allude to the different influences and thread the concept together. “Blues For Six” has an old school bluesy swing intro and then goes into an Afro 6/8 groove. The title track, another new one, is a melding of the ‘60s Coltrane and McCoy Tyner feel with a UK brukstep rhythm – the avant-garde aspects of the jazz tradition head to head with the driving beats. The album title is a play on Duke Ellington’s big band classic “Take The A Train”, “but with the modal jazz influences a la John Coltrane and undercurrent of beats and electronic elements, it just made sense to be ‘Take The Space Trane’!”, MdCL elaborates.
The band had a half day rehearsal and then hit their first show at Amsterdam’s Melkweg. The next day was the second show, from which this album is cut (subject to some edits for the confines of the CD format). And the next time they performed this repertoire, it really divided the audience: “Some older big band music fans were walking out in disgust (“that’s not big band music!”) while the younger music lovers were revelling in hearing something totally fresh… Nothing like ruffling a few feathers!” says MdL.