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Self Portrait is pianist/composer Jon Jang’s first CD for “Asian Improv Records” in over 10 years. A label in which he and others, such as composer/saxophonist/producer Francis Wong organized and launched back in 1987. Since then, Jang has gone on to carve out a noteworthy reputation as an often brilliant pianist/composer and bandleader who possesses the distinctive qualities of a modern day visionary who draws upon his Asian heritage as a source for inspiration and musical implementation. Jang is a master at fusing Oriental modalities and Asian folk idioms with Western harmonic, melodic and chromatic concepts yet Jang has also engineered a deeply personal sound and style as a musician of great depth, feeling and substance! On Self Portrait, Jang is the consummate stylist as the music presented here is utterly magical! Jang opens with the gorgeous “Two Flowers On A Stem” which is dedicated to his mother and wife. Here, the pianist’s deft phrasing and richly melodic themes are quietly majestic and altogether heart warming. A fitting or appropriate musical statement conveyed in succinct yet subtle fashion as you are liable to hear some of the most beautiful themes imaginable, which consists of melding dim Oriental motifs with passionately executed melodies. Jang continues with a splendid rendition of Joni Mitchell’s “All I Want” as he produces swirling chord clusters along with intricate thematic evolvement while also emphasizing the memorable harmonies in sublime or indirect fashion.
Jang also tackles “Amazing Grace” while exhibiting his appreciation for Gospel and the Blues. With Ellington’s “Come Sunday”, Jang’s effective if not signature style utilization and execution of tremolo and surging crescendos enables the listener to grasp the underlying melody as if he were indeed asking for the listener’s participation. At times, Jang eludes the obvious yet renders many of these pieces from an equidistant or inward approach which represents one of the many distinguishing factors he possesses as an accomplished technician coupled with an acute and supremely inventive ear as an arranger. Jang jazzes it up on “The Procession/Woman Shaman of Alishan” as he once again injects a systematic view of Western musical forms with Oriental underpinnings.
Self Portrait is indeed a stirring profile of this extremely gifted musician and one of the most memorable jazz-related solo piano performances in recent memory yet the music transcends categorization! Jon Jang’s worldly and comprehensive approach should provide glistening entertainment to a vast audience. There are no barriers or boundaries to be found on Self Portrait as the shackles of restraint become undone along with any comparisons or stereotypical aspects of music in general! The message may be that simple! Highly recommended! * * * * *
I love jazz because anything is possible; it has few rules and the best jazz breaks those ones. I prefer free improv because it doesn't really have any rules at all.
I was first exposed to jazz in my teens (in the late sixties).
The first jazz record I bought was Filles de Kilimanjaro by Miles Davis, shortly followed by Extrapolation by John McLaughlin.
My advice to new listeners is to listen as widely as possible and not to make snap judgments--stick with it.