Beijing's Poly Theater has held over three-thousand international artistic events since its opening in 1991. The prestigious fifteen-hundred seat cultural hub was the site of a 2018 solo piano concert by Dai Liang (aka, A Bu
), possibly the best unknown pianist in music. A prodigy who began playing at four, the pianist was discovered in 2012 by the President of China's division of the electronics/media giant Sennheiser. Only thirteen at the time, he was then connected with a Grammy- winning producer and engineer and released two albums for Sennheiser Media, 88 Tones of Black and White
(2015) and Butterflies Fly in Pairs
(2016). Both albums were trio formations; the first with a rhythm section featuring two Beijing musicians, and Butterflies
with American studio musicians. Live At Beijing Poly Theater
is A Bu's first solo recording.
When he was nine, A Bu attended the exclusive China Conservatory of Music whose faculty has included Isaac Stern, Itzak Perlman, Yo-Yo Ma
, and Jessye Norman
. By his early teens, he was studying classical piano at the Julliard School. In 2015 A Bu won the First Prize & Audience Choice awards at the Montreux Jazz Solo Piano Competition. He took first prize in the solo piano competition at the Riga Jazz Stage in 2019. A Bu has appeared in multiple performances for the International Jazz Day Global Concert, and along with the Montreux Jazz Festival he has appeared at the Forbidden City Concert Hall, Moscow's Tchaikovsky Concert Hall, Umbria Jazz Festival, JZ Festival, and other international jazz festivals. A Bu has shared stages with Herbie Hancock
, Wayne Shorter
, Marcus Miller
, Igor Butman
, Till Bronner
, Ben Williams
, Brian Blade
and other top-tier jazz artists.
Except for "Memories of Love"from his second releasethe live performance recorded in 2018 is a spontaneous gem. The opening piece, "Prelude," conjures up the real-time creation of Keith Jarrett
's "Köln Concert, Part II C" as A Bu demonstrates a similar ability to instinctively construct improvisations with exceptional lyricism. Within the individual confines of this piece, and to degrees on "Lullaby," "Adante to Wandy," and "Finale" we hear jazz, classical, and gospel elements seamlessly interwoven, and breaks in the proceedings that serve as brief but integral passages.
The pianist takes a route even more challenging, but not alienating, with "La Mer Bleue," an unaffected, wide-ranging exploration testing the stress points between lucidity and concept. At his most adventurous, A Bu crosses into atonality and abstraction. "Scherzo" has a less structured feeling than the other pieces on Live At Beijing Poly Theater
, yet it is an equally diverting presentation, with as many disparities as can fit in a piece under five minutes. No explanation is necessary for "Blues" except to say it is one of the most entertaining tracks on the album, and not without its rhythmic complexity.
A Bu has said that one of his goals is "to experiment with the free form of improvisation and to search for a new conception of how a solo piano concert could be." Few artists could surpass his ability to realize that mission. But for all the impressive training he has amassed, he is not an academic ideologue; his music's warmth is only heightened by his technical expertise. It is not an overstatement to say that A Bu/Dai Liang, as an instrumentalist and composer, is the best of his generation. Live At Beijing Poly Theater
is one of the best albums of this year and is highly recommended.
A Bu has also recorded a trio album with bassist Larry Grenadier
and drummer Eric Harland
, scheduled for a later release.
Prelude; Lullaby; La Mer Bleue; Memories of Love; Scherzo; Blues; Adante to Wandy; Finale.