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Dai Liang, aka A Bu: Beijing Prodigy

Karl Ackermann By

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A Bu's debut was a rarity not just because of the young pianist's disproportionate talent but also because of the paucity of jazz recordings from China. A Bu's talent as a composer is now on display as well, with the release of a new trio outing, Butterflies Fly In Pairs, featuring his original compositions as well as covers of two of his piano inspirations, Chick Corea and Michel Camilo.

A Bu's original rhythm section, two talented, local Beijing musicians have been replaced with American studio musicians who bring a wider range of experience to the mix. The resourceful drummer Ryan J. Lee has broad experience ranging from work with David Grusin to the Kansas City Symphony and some gospel music for good measure. Bassist Tom Kennedy has performed or recorded with Dizzy Gillespie, Freddie Hubbard, Al Di Meola and Randy Brecker to name just a few. The notable saxophonist Antonio Hart, with whom A Bu had studied in New York, appears on two of the eleven tracks.

A Bu's own compositions are bookended by two versions of the title track. Based on Peixun Chen's Cantonese folk theme, the opening version is fast-paced with changing tempos and complex patterns that highlight A Bu's advanced techniques. "Forever Suite Part I" is more solidly a pop-jazz tune while Part II of that title bears no resemblance. Here A Bu imparts an old world European feel in sharp contrast to the album's overall contemporary style. Hart makes the first of his two appearances on "With Mind I," an improvisational swing while "With Mind II" introduces David Watson—half of a duo known as the Chop Horns—on flute. Cecilia Stalin supplies the album's sole vocal on the ballad "Memories of Love." "The Last Trip" brings back Hart on a piece that recalls the groove-oriented style of Bob James as does "For Kurt." Bassist Kennedy has an appealing extended solo on the lyrical "Rainchel," another pop improvisation.

A Bu is clearly the featured player on Butterflies Fly In Pairs with Kennedy and Lee assuming more traditional rhythm section roles. The young pianist shows considerable maturity in his willingness to hold back on flamboyance for the sake of musicality. Having solidly established himself as a musician on his debut release, he now adds an estimable credential as a composer. It is easy to imagine that in the near future, A Bu's name will be mentioned along with some of the best jazz pianists of modern times. Hearing this album is like getting in on the ground floor.

Dai's growing reputation in jazz hasn't caused him to abandon his classical roots nor to avoid combining the genres. On November 21, 2016, he will be performing at the Moscow House of Music with saxophonist Igor Butman and his Moscow Jazz Orchestra, and the Moscow Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra led by Russian conductor Vladimir Spivakov. On December 29th and 30th, he will be joining the Belgrade Philharmonic Orchestra for a two-night Gershwin show in Belgrade, Serbia. Dai/A Bu is also in the planning stages of his next recording. Likely to be a mix of original compositions and standards, some arraignments for strings may be included.
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