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Li Xiaochuan: Initial

Nicholas F. Mondello By

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In China, one of the world's most ancient—and at times sheltered—civilizations, jazz music, which was once called "pornographic," has experienced a very robust re-emergence. For example, a recent multi-city tour in 5-digit capacity venues by Maestro Arturo Sandoval played to overflow SROs each night. And, there's even now a Blue Note in Beijing, a jazz club near the Great Wall, and many other jazz venues.

Trumpeter Li Xiaochuan, a leading Chinese jazz/classical trumpeter and educator (he teaches at Shanghai Conservatory and tours worldwide) is an example of this recent phenomenon. And with this release, Initial, Li confirms that jazz is not only alive and well in China, but that he, his group and this fine recording, are certainly worthy of even wider world-class recognition.

"Wang" kicks off the session, offering a slow rock groove with the trumpeter harmonizing. He covers the haunting, "call-response" melody slickly over a two-chord guitar/rhythm section base. "Initial" is a memorable, highly-energized motif played forcefully over a solid bed that is launched before great Tian Bai and Li solos. "Song for Pat," a slower groove, has Li introducing the melody in the trumpet's altissimo register. The composition is an apparent salute to Pat Metheny. "Zen Me Di" is a percussive, heart-beater with Li and Crew stop-timing and Li shading a later Miles Davis. The cut is hypnotically irresistible as it fireflies over Chris Trzcinski's marvelous set work.

Li plays bright and beautifully with great technique and high "chops" throughout. A stylist, he works effortlessly around the horn both melodically and improvisationally throughout. The accompanying rhythm section is highly involved and flawless on every cut. Keyboardist/pianist, Tian Bi and guitarist Xiongguan Zhang are superb soloists and accompanists. The collective vibe here is intensity and focus.

The variety of rhythmic textures across the date demonstrate Li's creative pen (he composed all) and also displays the breadth and range this talented group possesses (a Second Line-ish "Shanghai Blues," the gentle "Radio Music," the gorgeous Fei Peng-delivered "Yverdon," and the beautiful Chris Botti-esque Bossa "It's Time To ...").

Initial is a fine recording offering great emotion and passion. There's also a lot of elegance and joy here. It is no wonder that the album won the esteemed China Music Award. And, as would be said at the Beijing Blue Note, bù lā wò!

Track Listing: Wang; Initial; Song for Pat; Zen Me Di; Shanghai Blues; Radio Music; Yverdon; It's Time To ... ; Lan Hua Hua.

Personnel: Xiaochuan Li: trumpet and flugelhorn; Tian Bai: piano and keyboard; Xiongguan Zhang: guitar; Danny Zanker: bass; Chris Trzcinski: drums; Fei Peng: violin.

Title: Initial | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: Sony Music

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