Thursday, December 31, 2020

Lin Shicheng, Gao Hong, Hunting Eagles Catching Swans, Chinese Pudong Pipa Music


Perhaps the happiest lifelong music listener is one who is not afraid to let the listening being get ahead of the conscious deliberating mind. In this way one's musical being can travel unhindered to previously unexperienced musical places and commune with new sounds, only later then to engage that music on a more deliberate and conscious level, perhaps. Whether this is something psychically universal or not could no doubt be debated. It is for me anyway a path I continue to travel in my own musically experiential way. Without that exploratory urge one must resign the self to limitations that inevitably hold one back. This I know.

So in the musical repertoire for the Chinese stringed instrument called the pipa I have progressed some ways into the excellence of it without knowing beforehand exactly where I was going. As a great example take the album before me this morning. Hunting Eagles, Catching Swans, Chinese Pudong Pipa Music (ARC Music EUCD2928). It features pipa master Lin Shicheng and as the cover states "his best student" Gao Hong.

Readers of this blog page may remember Gao Hong as the pipa master who collaborated very nicely with oud master Issam Rafea on the wonderful duet album From Our World to Yours (see the June 19, 2020 posting for my discussion of that one).

The album at hand was recorded some short time after the 1996 US Tour by Shicheng and Hong--and consists of pieces they performed together while the tour was in progress. It was a culmination of a most fruitful and productive master-pupil experience. At the same time it was among the very last albums made by Lin Shicheng (1922-2005) and so a testament to his full blossoming and creative fulfillment. And most importantly it is a marvelous example of the interplay of two pipa virtuosi of the highest caliber, with Shicheng and Gao Hong  in perfect synchrony, giving forth with a tremendously vital dual artistry.

Over the course of the program we hear some ten works that fill us with the beauty of the Pudong pipa style--in turn intricate, dynamic, explosive and deeply contemplative. They at times alternate, taking turns unveiling the particulars of this rich musical fare. The very last work, "Moonlight Over the  Spring River" features a duet of Ms. Hong on the stringed zhongman and Lin Shicheng on pipa. It is a fascinating example of Chinese traditional chamber sounds, something to hear repeatedly, as is the entire album, filled with subtlety and drama, some of the strongest traditions of world string playing at its very best. The pipa duets, two of them, are especially excellent listening but then so are the solo works played alternately by the two artists. There is tensile strength and astounding depth of artistry to be heard on this album. 

If you know traditional Chinese pipa music this will give you a wonderful addition to what you have. If it is something new it will open up a wonderful world of musical sound. Either way it is well worth your time. Excellent! Highly recommended.

Monday, December 28, 2020

Rich Halley, Matthew Shipp, Michael Bisio, Newman Taylor Baker, The Shape of Things


At any given moment in music there are thousands upon thousands of great and compatible musical artists in New Jazz who could theoretically get together and play, a group consisting of all possible musical companions alive and performing actively, charging forward into the now. Yet of course there are possibilities that ultimately come about and those that do not, for whatever reasons, the logistics of time and place hindering a session in the realities of everyday life as much as anything, maybe.

Thankfully there are those possible intersections of promise that do come together, and what's more are recorded under the right circumstances so we can hear them later in time. And so the music is ever enshrined for posterity, for those who will listen years ahead and get the message, one can only hope. 

Lucky for us such an intersection and recording has come about with tenor man Rich Halley and the Matthew Ship Trio (Shipp, piano, Michael Bisio, contrabass, and Newman Taylor Baker on the drums). The album captures faithfully the excitement of the meeting last August. And happily it is out. It is entitled The Shape of Things (Pine Eagle Records  CD 013).

For those of you like me who have been following these artists, the very mention of the get-together makes one perk up with anticipation, for all have been doing great work in the Avant-New-Free Jazz zone for years. Each is a distinctive, personal, innovative voice on the scene. The six-segmented session, beautifully recorded and wonderfully performed, is one of those high points in the music, an intersection where everything is right.

The warmth of the improvisations put me in mind of the classic later Coltrane Quartet and Quintet. Not in terms of imitation, of course. Rather the fire of conviction and inventive scope for this foursome is in the best tradition of such things, stemming from the Trane-Ayler-Ornette days onward, fully fired in its very own way. The music freely tumbles out like a fountainhead, sometimes directly swinging but always in any event implicating a testificatory pulse that underlies without always having to give out with the periodicity. There are moments that roll by with the kind of focused energy we heard in  Trane's "Sunship," a high powered step ahead. This is invention of a high order, every bit as good as what I had hoped for when I was fortunate to find The Shape of Things in my mailbox the other day.

This is music one would  be glad to end the Pandemic with (soon, one hopes)--reminding us what musically we have to look forward to once we normalize the world and can freely interact again! All four artists are super-articulated, note inspired, cascading and tumultuously bearing witness in sound.

All four are at their very best and form a quartet summit of great sounds. There is wall-to-wall inspiration to be heard on this album--one of the very best Avant Jazz offerings this year, absolutely. Be sure to hear it, get it.


Friday, December 18, 2020

Savina Yannatou & Joana Sa, Ways of Notseeing


Some music compels from the very first notes and never lets up. That for me is very true of Ways of Notseeing (Clean Feed CP563CD) by Savina Yannatou and Joana Sa. It is a group of some seven free-flowing improvisational landmarks by Savina on vocals and Joanna at the piano, both conventional and semi-prepared piano and props. There are also three "Resonance" interludes by Joana Sa alone. 

These are all wonderfully nuanced New Music sounding poeticisms. Ms. Yannatou gives us a sung-spoken sprechstimme that might remind you slightly of Schoenberg's vocal part for his celebrated Pierrot Lunaire  for its dramatic declamatory animated presence. Yet this is improvised--incredibly inventive and complexly flowing and a ways along from Schoenberg.

Joanna Sa gives us some timbrally and notefully brilliant playing that sounds at times almost orchestral yet directly performative. She compliments Savina's imaginative utterances grandly and veers off on her own with a sure sense and poetic excellence that is a rare thing indeed.

These are two artists made to perform this together! It is one of those sonic adventures that stays with you the more you hear it, that leaves a lasting impression that only makes you want to hear the music the more.

I will admit Joanna Sa is an artist I think central. With Savina Yannatou there is kinetic frisson of the very vert best kind. Molto bravo!

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

M'lumbo and Jane Ira Bloom, Celestial Mechanics


I was lucky to be exposed to the music of M'lumbo a number of years ago in my role as music reviewer on this and one of  the other blog pages I continue to keep going. It took me a little getting used to but I have come to very much appreciate the  adventure of every M'lumbo release. Each is a thick carpet of sound, a tapestry of vibrant arranged and free Jazz elementals and advancements, a large sound that butts up against contrasting sound washes, samples of text and music with a story to tell, often enough of a future retrospective sort of a utopia of technological "marvels" (like stereo or the advent of cassette tape and how to flip the tape at the end of a side), political, cultural and old-school audio drama. post-glitch and pre-new Afro-Futurist Space Age music. The music of the future in the past and the past in its future, music genre collages from Funk to Avant, Bop to Psychedelic, a golden cosmic bowl of everything that continually metamorphoses.

So there is a new one, a two-CD set with the welcome appearance of Jane Ira Bloom on soprano and electronics. It is called Celestial Mechanics (Rope a Dope 2-CDs), which goes along of course with the often cosmic orientation of the music. As always it is a universe of sound. And the sampled text, effects, music samples and the band itself put it all together to tell richly complex stories in sound. Sometimes very funny. Otherwise dramatic-serious. And musically cutting edge, Jane Ira Bloom sounding marvelous, that band equally on top of it!

It works. Open yourself to it and you will float outwards into a very complex and stimulating space! This is a good one to start with.