On a strangely mild January Thursday, my friend Kyle and I are propping up the low lit Nectar Lounge bar having an animated discussion about how the giants of jazz used to play live.
“John Coltrane would come on stage and inform the audience that this wasn’t going to be a regular show,” he says. “He would say that he had come with some melodies and some ideas, and that he and his band were just going to improvise and string them all together live in one glorious tapestry of sound.”
It’s funny then that a little while later, as electronic jazz funk and soul producer Mark de Clive-Lowe and vocalist Sy Smith climb onto the stage, that, after greeting the enthusiastic crowd, Sy intones into the mic, “Everything tonight is pure improvisation.” Lowe then sets the creative pace for tonight’s proceedings by beginning to build beats from scratch, tapping and looping kicks, snares, congas, bongos, and basslines.
Every element of Mark’s uniquely funky, future-facing sonic output weaves together perfectly in time, including his head that bounces up and down to the music with the precision of a German yo-yo sandbagged behind a wall of flashing keyboard racks.
As he was clad in a flat cap, scarf, and a beige overcoat, you could be mistaken for thinking that de Clive-Lowe was on his way to spend an evening at a dog racing track in northern Liverpool, instead of coming here to redefine the boundaries of soulful electronica.
Over relentless broken beats and synth bassline grooves, Smith’s powerful and impressive vocals are never a note out of place as she sings and interpolates lines from club and hip hop classics such as “I See You Baby” by Groove Armada and Nelly’s “Hot In Herre.”
Even MJ is paid tribute tonight as Sy shouts “We love you Michael Jackson!” over Lowe’s pulsating basslines, and begins to sing the ma-ma-seh ma-ma-sah breakdown from “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin” which morphs into a full-on blast of the Jackson 5′s “I Want You Back,” much to the excitement of the audience.
Mark de Clive-Lowe’s sound then takes on a decidedly Latin and carnival vibe, with Smith taking on Crystal Waters’ early nineties pop-dance hook “la da di, la da da” (that mercilessly etches itself on your brain just when it took you twenty years to finally forget it) and Inner City’s anthem “Good Life” that’s accompanied by virtuoso keyboard solos and funk bassline riffs that are so squelchy they sound like Bootsy Collins with wet tennis shoes.
The extended encore includes a more-soulful-than-soulful version of “The World Is A Ghetto” and plenty of continued live galactic funk and jazz improvisation by Mr dCL. It’s a glorious tapestry of sound if ever there was one.
In support was Seattle’s SunTzu Sound’s (try saying that fast with a mouthful of hedgehogs) J-Justice and Atlee on the decks spinning cosmic jazz and house beats that warm up tonight’s show perfectly, showcasing everything great in urban soul from the spacey funk of Floating Points’ “Love Me Like This” to the NYC retro disco of Chic’s “I Want Your Love.”
You can catch SunTzu Sound at their next event with KEXP’s very own Kid Hops at TRUST, featuring the mighty J-Boogie, at the Baltic Room on Saturday February 19. For more information head to http://trust.suntzusound.com
Were you at the show? What did you think of Mark de Clive-Lowe’s soulful sounds? Do you think flat caps will make a comeback in broken beat and nu jazz circles in 2011? Let KEXP know in the Comments section below!