Taiwanese-born bassist Vincent Hsu
's ambitious opus, Music for the Jazz River Suite
, is subtitled "The Spirit of Love River and Mississippi River." Its purpose is to find common ground via jazz between the Love River in in Hsu's hometown of Kaohsiung, Taiwan, and the Mississippi, which carried jazz from the cotton fields of the South to urban areas in the North and, eventually, throughout the United States and around the world.
The suite, written and arranged by Hsu, was recorded live in November 2021 at the National Kaohsiung Center for Arts by the leader's twelve-piece Jazz Supreme Orchestra, ten of whose members are Taiwanese with one each from Germany (tenor saxophonist Jonas Ganzemuller
) and Argentina (pianist Masaubach
). As the music is thematic, it is meant to exemplify certain scenes, events or circumstances envisioned by Hsu and imparted to the orchestra and its audience. And, as is true of most such endeavors, it is best to overlook the subject matter and focus on the music itself.
Hsu's compositions generally begin softly, gather momentum, unleash the orchestra's more powerful elements and end in what often seems mid-notewhich is fine, as long as the purpose is achieved. An exception is "Unknown Stars," a relatively tranquil soliloquy among piano, bass, violin (Yu Chen Tseng
) and soprano saxophone (Hank Pan
), which is well-received by the audience. Elsewhere, Hsu cleaves for the most part to the framework already noted, adding unison hand claps to introduce and send off the energetic "River Workers," whose fugue-like midsection is less than enticing.
The suite's solemn "Overture: Cotton Field" leads to the more exuberant "The River Is Wide" and the Rumba for the River
trilogy whose components are "Father's Melody," "Memphis Creek" and "Dragon's Dance." The first is frisky with an Afro-Cuban slant, the second is robust and more jazz-oriented, the third impulsive with Latin and Far Eastern touches. Together, they give the album a solid core. That leaves "A Pilot's Day on the Mississippi River," which isn't altogether displeasing despite some over-the-top blowing by one of the tenors. Most soloists are easily identified, as their instrument is the only one in the ensemble. There are, however, two tenors (Ganzenmuller, Shen-Yu Su
), and either one could be soloing.
There is no doubting Hsu's initiative or the expertise of his Jazz Supreme Orchestra. In the end, however, Music for the River Jazz Suite
must be appraised for the music it produces, which, while at times fresh and exciting, too often falls short of that goal, leading to an overall grade of better than average but a shade below exceptional.
Overture: Cotton Field; River Is Wide; Rumba for the River Trilogy (Father’s Melody/Memphis
Creek/Dragon Dance); Unknown Stars; A Pilot’s Day on the Mississippi River; River Workers;
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