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Joe Fonda/Xu Fengxia: Distance

AAJ Staff By

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This release documents a May '99 collaboration between New York bassist Fonda and Shanghai guzheng player Fengxia. (The performance, oddly enough, took place in Germany. The guzheng is a stringed instrument resembling the koto.) The ironic title of Distance refers to both the geography and the musical conception behind this disc. Given their relatively brief collaboration, these two players have a remarkable intuitive understanding of each other's approach to the music. For the most part, Fengxia takes the lead, directing changes in style, dynamics, and tempo.

Each player brings a distinct personal collection of ideas to the plate. Fonda, who has at various points in his career steeped himself in straight-ahead jazz, the blues, and the avant-garde, pursues a on-and-off combination of all three. His bass playing is pulsing and understated, avoiding the busy approach that generally characterizes bass playing on solo and duo records. He tends toward a rhythmic plucking approach, avoiding the bow, and inserts plenty of legato vocals. Fengxia, who has a similarly eclectic range, also brings a great helping of traditional Chinese music to the plate. If you can imagine a Shanghai musical conception with touches of a rockin' groove on top, you've captured the essence of much of her playing. Unlike Fonda, who tends to exclusively perform either vocals or bass, Fengxia demonstrates a capacity to vocalize and play at the same time. (Perhaps a relic of her experience in rock bands.)

The fundamental question with this recording (like any cross-cultural, cross-stylistic experiment) is whether there are enough sympathetic vibrations to make it work. On Distance, the answer is a definite yes. Of course, the listener must be prepared for some peculiar combinations of sound, as well as some abrupt changes of course during the improvisation. An open-minded listener will find this record offers much novelty and depth. And it's strikingly well-recorded, with attention to bass extension and dynamics.

Track Listing: Happy Chinaman; A Journey into the Desert; Underwater Market Selling Clocks; Monastery on the Peak of a Glacier; Some Silent Movies.

Personnel: Joe Fonda: bass, voice; Xu Fengxia: guzheng, voice.

Title: Distance | Year Released: 2000 | Record Label: Leo Records

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