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Review

Chinese chakkar

If jazz gets you, Chinese folk tunes against a jazz background can mesmerise the dragons of your spirit


Take out
Hong Kong Dragon Club
Xien Records

The CD jacket is post-post modern, the light and shade effect subtle, the colours fading in and out on a Dada palette. It's actually the entrance to the Dragon Club (does a club by this name exist or was it created by the jacket artist?) Take out is produced by K K Wong, who assembled Chinese studio artistes and engineered the sound in a Hong Kong studio.

This isn't traditional Chinese music, but a modern mind using Chinese melodies to create mood music. This isn't mainstream jazz either, although the producers aim at "jazz sound". Ancient Chinese instruments like the erhu, guzheng, yangqin, di and pipa combine with modern keyboards and percussion to interpret Chinese folk melodies thousands of years old.

The first track Beautiful island starts like a Kenny Rogers pop song and then comes the Chinese violin with its plaintive story. Vanessa Mae tried fusion, but her violin concentrated mainly on Western classical pieces set to pop beats and she was a maniac for speed. This is slow, unyielding to pressures of speed, laid out on a bare deep bass, which hits unusual minor chords. The harmonica (David Packer) joins in and the jazz element comes into play.

If Green is the mountain is faster paced, A place far away is meditatively slow and the highlight is a low-toned plucked instrument. The harmonica is around on this track also.

Watering flowers features a piano, trumpets (Guy Barker), harmonica and a tinkling Chinese instrument which sounds similar to the Russian balailaka from Dr Zhivago's Lara's theme. The reed pipe is constantly heard, and the inflexions are not at all like the Indian or Western inflexions we in India are familiar with.

The Western instruments don't try Chinese inflexions, they just play like you've heard them in other jazz tapes. The lead is played by one of the Chinese instruments and the others take it from there, weaving in and out of the theme, overlapping sometimes. Take out features passages that are subtle, playful and explorative.

Three gorges of Yang Guan sounds like Beautiful island. The pentatonic scale (Bhoop or Mohana as Indian music would call it) is widely used on the tape. The harmonica often takes off and brings in a different colouring to the original theme. The percussion jazzes up before returning to a sedate pace. The harmonica at times plays counter melodies and ad libs over the Chinese instruments.

Azalea begins very chirpily, the piano notes accompanied by a flute like instrument humming in a high-pitched birdlike tone. There's also a tinkling harp-like instrument (either the cheng dating as far back as the third century B C, -- a sixteen stringed zither or the pipa, a pear-shaped, four stringed fretted lute) with a bend on it here and there.

Needlework reminds of you of countless women bending diligently over their embroidery in large airy rooms with an atmosphere of gossip, laughter and camraderie. The Chinese instrument is full of passion. Only on this number did I regret the introduction of the harmonica which alienates the whole experience. The piano chords in the background are arranged to layer the tune richly but unobtrusively.

Love song of the plain is wistful and in the solitary splendour of the Chinese pipe, perhaps the guzheng, evokes the dreary wastelands and their dangerous beauty. The arrangement is bleak, and revolves around just a monotonous phrase. The tone changes to newfound feeling with a tinkling sound. The gambolling piano brings with it a percussive bass and castanet pattern. All get together to find love in the end.

Just for tonight, written specially for this album by David Packer, has a fast disco style beat and bass and is the only non-traditional composition.

In Tale of the great wall, you climb up the stairs first on the piano or keyboard and then walk in time to the Chinese instrument. The Chinese pipe makes you peer over the wall and you keep looking for dragons!

This album may not be available in India, but you could buy it from shops in the US like CDNow or Amazon.

S Suchitra Lata


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