The Shennongjia mountain territory north of the Three Gorges of the Yangtze River is historically renowned in Chinese history as a veritable wellspring of herbal medicine. To this day, the area is well known for its singularly unusual plant and animal life. Many sections of the region remain uninhabited and unexplored. But the most legendary of the indigenous creatures to the rocky, craggy terrain and steeply sloping valleys is the "ye ren" (“wild man” or “night man”) which is also called “yeti”, or, in somewhat vulgar English, “Chinese Bigfoot”. Like its Pacific Northwest “cousin”, this large nocturnal primate has consistently been successful in eluding would be captors. If it were not for the occasional sighting, unverifiable by any means except for the memory of the individual sighting it, the ye ren would rapidly vanish exclusively into the realm of the imagination.
Or would it? Perhaps the imagination is the only place in which to capture the uncapturable, to achieve a fix on a discrete moment in time and articulate on it even as it slides by and vanishes, to give realizable form and substance to the unseeable and unknowable.
If so, then attempting to describe the music of Ye Ren, a freely improvising trio consisting of alto saxophonist Gary Hassay, the ubiquitous bassist William Parker, and percussionist Toshi Makahara is as hopeless as attempting to capture it’s namesake (more on this in a moment). Ye Ren is essentially led by Mr. Hassay, that is if anyone can truly claim to “lead” when creating music of this type (i.e., requiring intense interaction and equal cooperation amongst all participants).
Although Mr. Hassay has been actively performing since 1979, ANOTHER SHINING PATH is only his second recording, the first being his solo cd A SURVIVOR’S SMILE (1996, Dbops Music). According to his biography, “interdisciplinary collaborations” have occupied his primary interest since 1985. Since that time, he has participated in numerous projects for dance and “action painting”. During this time, Mr. Hassay has also found opportunity to perform with a diverse range of musicians including Fred Frith, Tom Cora, George Cartwright, Andrew Cyrille, Gerry Hemingway, Peter Broetzmann, Wadada Leo Smith, and Milford Graves. He is also the President and founding member of improvisationalmusicco., inc. (improvco), a not-for-profit corporation based in Allentown, PA and has received funding from Meet the Composer, the PA Council on the Arts (Fellowship and Artist in Education) and the Painted Bride (NEA regional interdisciplinary grant).
All of the performers in Ye Ren are obviously highly skilled musicians and listeners. The music ebbs and flows, ideas linger, vanish, reappear, all seemingly suspended in space and rotating about the coordinate axis for each of its three dimensions.
The aforementioned interest in interdisciplinary collaboration is abundantly evident in the music recorded here. Each of the musicians is experienced in working with dancers. But perhaps this is where the music seems to lose its grasp on this particular listener’s attention. There seems to be a visual or other sensory aspect lacking. While all three musicians are communicating, they seem to be describing forms and substances that only they can detect. Hence, it seems a private conversation that the listener is merely eavesdropping on instead of participating in (albeit not as a performer). The abstract and amorphous remain so, the listener is left groping for an aural hold. Of course, the possibility exists that the musicians themselves are attempting to seize hold of something that is eluding their collective grasp. In that event, the listener could inevitably be trying to play catch up, tossed in the wake of someone who themselves are in hot pursuit of a rapidly moving and evolving phenomenon.
This might seem to be a harsh condemnation but it isn’t intended as such. It should be further emphasized that none of this is to imply that ANOTHER SHINING PATH is a boring or bad outing. Fans of William Parker will undoubtedly find much to cherish in this clean, uncluttered, and well engineered recording.
So again, return to the name Ye Ren. In the liner notes, Mr. Hassay states that the name has no real meaning and that its significance lies in the way it sounds. Ultimately, that may be all that matters with freely improvised music, namely the way it sounds. The listener must often find his or her own meaning and consensus is unlikely. Beauty, enjoyment, or even “entertainment” is purely of the moment and resides entirely within the ears and imagination of the individual.
In conclusion, it must be noted that ANOTHER SHINING PATH is also the first release on the Drimala Records label. From the liner notes: “A portion of all Drimala Records’ proceeds are given to bring a small measure of love and hope to the homeless who but by an accident of birth could be you and I.” On the basis of this sentiment alone, it is suggested that Drimala Records is a label that should be closely watched and strongly supported.
Track list (time)
“A Fork In the Road” (5’24”), “7th Street Prowl (7’13”), “Night Train” (9’05’), “Northern Lights”(10’19”), “Circumambulate” (11’54”), “It Was Rich’s Race” (6’52”), “Ante Up” (7’51”), “Come What May” (10’41”)
Total time: 69’19”