Jen Shyu: Jade Tongue (2009)
Jen Shyu's approach to musicianship is what many would call consummate. Having begun musical studies at a very early age, she has become a highly accomplished pianist, vocalist, dancer and composer. She began to explore improvisation during her studies at Stanford University and has since become a regular collaborator with saxophonist Steve Coleman. This association is reflected in much of her recent work. With her formal studies providing a firm musical foundation, Shyu deftly integrates ethnographical research with innovative new musical structures, producing work that is both cerebral and visceral.
Though born and raised in the US, she has done extensive research into her own ethnic heritage, traveling to Taiwan, Cuba and Brazil to research the Chinese Diaspora. With excerpts from the Tao Te Ching and Cuba Commission Report: A Hidden History of the Chinese in Cuba combining with the work of various contemporary poets and Shyu's own original work, the texts Shyu has assembled for Jade Tongue all reflect this work. The mood is somber, often taking a strikingly tragic look at the euphoric heights and moribund depths of the human condition.
The rhythm pairing of bassist Thomas Morgan and drummer Dan Weiss is as compelling as ever, providing a subdued push on tracks "Chapter 33" and "Lunation," meanwhile creating intricate complexity on "Soomi Line," "Elliptical" and "Eye (I) Inside." Trumpeter Shane Endsley, saxophonist David Binney and guitarist Miles Okazaki often operate in a more supportive role, until the moment when one is given room to demonstrate his prodigious improvisational capabilities. Okazaki's solo on "Chapter 33" is particularly noteworthy, as is Binney's on "Li Bai." Jade Tongue is a moving exposition of Shyu's compositional, conceptual and musical abilities.
Her vocals segue seamlessly between bilingual spoken word and wordless improvisation, as on "Elliptical/Wayward Son." Her evocative unaccompanied opening, "Mother Cow's Companion," sets the tone exquisitely, while "Moonlight Sorrow," a feature for Shyu's singing with only piano accompaniment, ends the record with a return to a more even-tempered melancholy.
Track Listing: Mother Cow's Companion; Chapter 33; Li Bai; Soomi Line; The Chinese-cuban Queston Part 1: From What Places?; Part 2: What Were the Causes?; Part 3: the Human Color; Su Xiang Gee (Thinking Back); Elliptical/Wayward Son; Lunation; Leo Strong; Eye[i] Inside; Moon Night Sorrow.
Personnel: Jen Shyu: vocals; Thomas Morgan: bass; Dan Weiss: drums; Shane Endsley: trumpet; David Binney: saxophone; Miles Okazaki: guitar.
Record Label: Self Produced