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Jo-Yu Chen: Stranger

Dan Bilawsky By

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The title of pianist Jo-Yu Chen's third album refers to strangers of two different sorts: those who were once strangers but became part of Chen's life, and those who took the reverse course. Chen notes that as a Taiwanese artist living in New York, she's often felt like a stranger herself. That may be the case, but her music never betrays that fact; she plays like an insider looking out, not the other way around.

Stranger finds Chen in familiar company, working once again with bassist Christopher Tordini and drummer Tommy Crane. Here, as on Obsession (Self Produced/Sony Music, 2009/2011) and Incomplete Soul (Sony Music, 2011), they cover a lot of ground. They produce music that's elegiac in its outlook ("Mon Cher"), work the dark and stormy angle ("Fragments"), and milk a groove tune for all it's worth ("The Pirate"). The last item on that list is one of three songs that feature the album's only guest— guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel. He tears it up on that particular tune, but he takes a different path on "Castle" and "Art Of Darkness." There, he alternates between blending in and standing out. He's content to refract light and sound while working with the trio, but he brings a laser-like focus to his work when he stands apart.

Everything on Stranger, save for a traditional Chinese song ("Happy New Year"), is original, and it's hard to believe it all came from the same mind. Hints of drum 'n' bass ("Wolfman"), musings with a sense of space ("Interlude"), gently gliding music in five ("Song For Ryder"), and strikingly beautiful scenarios ("Foliage At Night") are all part of this impactful package.

Track Listing: Mon Cher; Wolfman; Castle; Fragments; Stranger; The Pirate; Interlude; Song for Ryder; Happy New Year; Art of Darkness; Foliage at Night.

Personnel: Jo-Yu Chen: piano; Christopher Tordini: bass; Tommy Crane: drums; Kurt Rosenwinkel: guitar (3, 6, 10)

Title: Stranger | Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: Okeh


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