Album Review: Church, Mark de Clive-Lowe (Ropeadope LLC, 2014)

stjohncoltrane

Iconography of the African Orthodox Church, St. John Coltrane

The Church of St. John Coltrane is a congregation in San Francisco that believes God spoke through John Coltrane’s music. Canonized in the African Orthodox Church, Coltrane is pictured in their iconography with his tenor saxophone, flames emerging from its bell.

“Spiritual Jazz” is used to describe Coltrane’s recordings from the mid-1960’s. It’s a moniker that also suits Coltrane collaborators like Pharoah Sanders and Leon Thomas. Characterized by long-play recordings, entrancing rhythms, melodies and the occasional cacophonic interlude, spiritual jazz was often considered avant-garde.

My uninvited and admittedly cursory sermon on the history of spiritual jazz is meant to illuminate Mark de Clive-Lowe’s recent release, Church. It’s a remarkable ode to spiritual jazz, surprisingly authentic for a producer who is better known for electronic dance music.

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With Church, de Clive Lowe has pegged the ‘vibe’ of spiritual jazz while bringing his own modernity to it. The record is quite a departure from his prior work, although he did release a jazz oriented album, Take the Space Trane (Tru Thoughts, 2013) with the Rotterdam Jazz Orchestra early last year.

The track, “Ghaziya,” is the best showcase of the sound de Clive Lowe cultivates across the whole record. Its use of scales more commonly associated with North African and West Asian music draw comparisons to Afrobeat revivalists The Budos Band and Soul Jazz Orchestra. What sets Church apart is the injection of electronic elements and a production style that isn’t afraid to mash up traditional jazz instruments with synthesized melodies and beats.

Vocal collaborator, Nia Andrews, appears on several tracks, the most striking of which is “Hollow.”  Keeping with the spiritual jazz vibe, Andrews’ performance and de Clive Lowe’s arrangements on this track evoke the work of Fertile Ground

While novel and tasteful, honouring spiritual jazz is not what makes Church a strong album. Rather, it’s de Clive Lowe’s musical choices, sharp production, and authentic jazz performances. That it has a cohesive theme, musically and lyrically centred on spiritual reflection, makes this album even stronger and more lasting.

Related Listening:

  • Hum-Allah-Hum-Allah-Hum-Allah” – Pharaoh Sanders, Jewels of Thought (UMG Recordings, 1969)
  • Black Is” – Fertile Ground,Black Is (Blackout Studios, 2004)
  • Budos Rising” – The Budos Band, The Budos Band II (Daptone Records, 2007)

 

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