Label/Year: Pi Recordings, 2017
Lineup: Jen Shyu: voice, Taiwanese moon lute, Korean gayageum, piano; Chris Dingman: vibraphone; Mat Maneri: viola; Thomas Morgan: bass; Satoshi Takeishi: percussion; Anna Webber: flutes; Dan Weiss: drums + The Mivos Quartet
Acknowledged as original and creative, the experimental vocalist/composer/dancer, Jen Shyu, meritoriously earned the trust of groundbreaking jazz luminaries such as Steve Coleman and Anthony Braxton.
Born in Illinois to Taiwanese and East Timorese immigrant parents, the New-York based singer brings her musical heritage and other multi-cultural influences into nine original compositions, which she calls doors (to other worlds). Although heavily steeped in the world music genre, her work also includes gritty jazz layers piled up by her Jade Tongue band, as well as the unabashed, trenchant sounds occasionally dispensed by the Mivos Quartet.
Sung in seven languages, Song of Silver Geese is a never-heard fusion between East and West cultures, originally conceived as a performance piece in a straight collaboration with the Japanese dance artist Satoshi Haga. The music is an unusual compound of raw traditional folk (Korea, Indonesia, Timor, Taiwan, and Java), cinematic chamber drama, and encouraging contemporary jazz moods.
“Prologue-Song of Lavan Pitinu" blossoms with an immaculate combination of voice and lute, leading to “World of Java”, a piece that highlights Shyu’s precise low timbres and where Anna Webber’s intervallic flute notes sound as audacious and cool as Eric Dolphy’s. The flutist culminates the piece with a contemplative solo improvisation, which guides us to the next mysterious door, “Dark Road, Silent Moon”, a decidedly cinematic and experimental journey reinforced by the purely dramatic chops of the strings.
“World of Hengchun” is a Taiwan-influenced piece whose dramatic orchestration feels propitious for serious puppet shows or operas, while “World of Ati Batik” is an interesting, quasi-robotic litany, beautifully put up by voice, piano, and flute. The vocalist also shows a remarkable ability for delineating stunning harmonies and incorruptible ostinatos on the piano.
The doors close with “Contemplation”, a solo poetic English-language narrative (words are by Taiwanese poet Edward Cheng), where Shyu accompanies herself with the Korean gayageum. Yet, before that, we are taken to an odd Korean dance with “World of Baridegi”, a showcase for supple percussive elements that collude with the competent instrumentation and distant foreign words uttered with a vehemence of a blazing prophet. Shyu’s flexible voice and improvisational skills are all energy, clarity, rhythm, and emotion. Expect something outside the conventional.
07 - World of Ati Batik ► 08 - World of Baridegi ► 09 - Contemplation