After years of listening to and writing about jazz flutists I feel qualified to describe Mark Alban Lotz as a unique voice on his instrument. This is not, perhaps, surprising. With the mainstream of this genre emanating from the United States, Mark, who lives in the Netherlands, could be seen as isolated. Yet this relatively tiny country has produced some very interesting musicians, jazz flutists included: Chris Hinze, Ronald Snijders and Peter Guidi have all contributed to this tradition, although largely ignored by the critical elites in New York.
Lotz has continued this tradition of innovation by Dutch artists. Like Guidi and Snijders he was born outside of the Netherlands — he grew up in Thailand, Uganda and Germany. Having gained an international perspective, and a love of music — he picked up the flute at age 17 — he arrived in the Netherlands where he encountered a music education system of the highest quality. He trained in classical flute at the Hilversum Conservatory, pursued classical/contemporary music at the Amsterdam School of the Arts and studied world music, specifically the Indian Bansuri flute, at Codarts in Rotterdam. In between, he found time to travel to New York and Los Angeles to take private tuition from jazz masters such as Lew Tabakin, Bobby Watson, Ellery Eskelin, Dave Valentin, Ken McIntyre, Buddy Colette, James Newton, Pedro Eustache and Steve Kujala.
In subsequent years, he has travelled widely to perform, teach and interact with other musicians throughout Eastern and Western Europe, the USA, Canada, Cuba, Suriname, French Guiana, Turkey, Senegal, India, Nepal, Egypt, China, Taiwan. During this career he has issued at least 18 of his own albums and made over 40 appearances with other artists, covering a host of different genres over multiple world music traditions, from jazz to contemporary European music to African, Afro-Cuban, Balkan and Indian classical forms, among others.
This background has contributed to a musical vision which is not tied down to any genre, and yet remains coherent. How is this possible? I once congratulated the great Cuban clarinetist/saxophonist Paquito D’Rivera after a brilliant concert opening the D.C. Jazz Festival which also blended several genres — Cuban, Mexican, Brazilian, American. He told me “I brought it all together with a common thread — the language of bebop.” As with Paquito, Lotz’ work demonstrates the integrating power of the jazz tradition, a genre that transcends its own boundaries to produce a vision and an attitude that allows for interactions between different world traditions while often — not always but very frequently — retaining the integrity of both. Mark Alban Lotz is at the forefront of this activity. While doing so, he also demonstrates that this no accident; as a flutist he is well equipped to understand multiple music traditions.
How can we characterise his personal genre? Cadence magazine sidesteps the whole issue by referring to Mark as an “Ambitious composer of unique contexts.” According to Latinjazznet.com: “Mark Lotz is more than just a big voice in the European jazz scene. He is at the forefront of jazz, classical and World Music and is obviously enjoying every minute of it!” When Mark Alban Lotz told me he had a new recording I was at a loss to guess what it might be. I remember adverts from the London Underground: “If you can calculate the next number in this sequence you may have a future in data processing.” Well, having reviewed Solo Flutes and Food Foragers, his albums number 17 & 18, I probably have no future as a jazz critic because had no clue what would come next. As it turns out it is something of a return to jazz.
Lotz was in Poland to attend a conference in march 2018, while giving lectures and master classes at major conservatories, as well as two solo recitals and gigs with various Polish musicians, free and jazz. There are, indeed, some equally unique jazz artists in Poland (including flutist Leszek Hefi Wiśniowski) with an aesthetic very close to Lotz’, so he was having a good time there. A recording had not been included in the planning until bassist Grzegorz proposed a quick trip to Wroclaw to record some pieces with drummer Wojciech.
Mark takes up the story: “It was quite rough: I had very little sleep after a great gig and after-party (lots of Vodka …) in Krakow, heading by bus to Wroclaw to a quite tiny, lo-fi studio where I met Wojciech for the first time. He was very sick with about 40 degree fever! Still we rehearsed a tune quickly and recorded it. One or two takes. Then we proceeded with another. At a certain point Wojciech was completely wasted so we sent him home. Grzegorz and me used the rest of the time to record some duets. Here though, with the exception of Song Of Delilah, we just improvised together. The end results come from just an informal session with two young great Polish jazz musicians: meet, greet, record. This is very much in the true spirit of jazz. I had a ball and loved to play with drums again. Also, the fact that (though also modal stuff) finally I recorded some jazz tunes. I felt like heaven. Funny enough that I loved the format (the classic trio jazz setting) and these two play great.”
Very refreshing! Everything about the circumstances mitigated against a successful recording. Yet the result is some of the best playing you will hear anywhere. Taking a handful of melodic fragments and rhythmic patterns, along with one standard tune, Lotz, beautifully supported by Grzegorz and Woiciech, spins out long, sinewy, unendingly creative lines that constitute the very essence of jazz. Some of it is abstract, and yet it makes constant reference to the mainstream. Many jazz flutists dare to include avant-garde abstractions in their improvisations these days, but few avant-garde artists have the courage to embrace the simple and the concrete. Pure genius! Whatever my future in either data processing or music criticism, it will be fascinating to see–or hear–what Mark Alban Lotz comes up with next!