China is rarely thought of as a geographic source of jazz from the perspective of westerners, partly due to a less than robust presence of the genre and partly because the country remains closed off in many respects. In the past ten years or so, only a handful of "jazz" recordings have come out of the more open environment of Hong Kong. That music would be more accurately classified as pop or "Cantopop" (Cantonese popular music) as Chinese music critics dubbed the sound. However, there have been breakout moments such as Wynton Marsalis playing the irregularly scheduled Beijing Jazz Festival amongst many more unfamiliar artists.
In 2012, the President of China's division of the electronics/media giant Sennheiser witnessed a young pianist playing a small festival in Bejiing. The then thirteen-year old A Bua prodigy who began playing at the age of fourwas shortly hooked up with a Grammy winning producer and engineer. Having studied at China's Conservatory of Music since the age of nine, Bu was already fully formed as a pianist and with the professional support was able to cut a recording that earned him a sponsored exchange spot in New York studying with saxophonist Antonio Hart.
88 Tones of Black and White is the first major market release from Bu whose trio consists of drummer Shao Ha Ha and Ma Kai on bass. The trio works through several John Coltrane covers, a couple from pianists Michel Petrucciano, Bill Evans and Thelonius Monk and a number of other standards. Bu opens with Petrucianno's "Miles Davis Licks" and more than does it justice, building up to fast-paced romp but without Petrucianni's over-the-top swagger. The same can be said for the Bu's rendition of the French pianist's "September 2nd" in that Bu's restraint actually adds value to the composition. "Very Early" is a spot-on version of Evans' recording with Kai and Ha Ha expertly reproducing the Chuck Israels and Paul Motian parts.
Bu inserts a tasteful cross-genre interpretation of J.S. Bach's "Invention No. 15" before moving on to a animated reading of Dizzy Gillespie's "A Night in Tunisia." The Monk/Cootie Williams "Round Midnight" is creatively opened as a lullaby-turned slow ballad with hints of the blues. It's a uniquely masterful treatment of one of the most over-recorded compositions in music. Coltrane's "Moment's Notice" and "Impression" give Kai and Ha Ha space to show their own considerable skills even as Bu drives at breakneck speed.
There are trio and solo versions of Coltrane's "Giant Steps," both with masterful improvisations from Bu and demonstrating his ability to blend advanced methods and empathy for the original composition. Where he plays with speedand he often doesit is not for the sake of pyrotechnics. These are exacting and tightly controlled improvisations of well-established and exceptional composed material. 88 Tones of Black and White is a two-disc set, the second disc being a DVD of live performances including a piano duet with Chick Corea. Bu's potential is almost off the charts and as a trio, he Kai and Ha Ha are already on a plane that many musicians never reach.
Disc 1 - Miles Davis Licks; Very Early Start; All the Things You Are; September 2nd; Bach no.15; A Night in Tunisia; Round Midnight; Moment's Notice; Giant Steps; Punto Cubano; Big Nick; Impression; Giant Steps (Solo). Disc 2 - (DVD) Round Midnight; Meet Mr. Chick Corea; A Night in Tunisia.