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Hong Kong Dragon Club: Take Out

Jim Santella By

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What was music like 4000 years ago? Singing with native instrumental accompaniment? Folk songs that told interesting stories? Communicating in the native language while incorporating some form of melody, harmony and rhythm? The music was probably quite different in Asia than in Europe, Africa, or India. Different civilizations developed widely separate tonal foundations and characteristically unique musical instruments.

While common factors such as timbre and expression reveal a "universal language," each region was generally not influenced by the other back in 2000 B.C. Some of the songs used on Take Out are that old. British-born David Packer, who leads the Hong Kong Dragon Club on harmonica and keyboards, selected Chinese folk songs for his project. The songs tell about beautiful places in Nature and teach valuable moral lessons that are passed on from generation to generation. Unlike most singers, the harmonica player has no language barrier to confront him. Thus, he is able to blend with different styles regardless of language facility.

Packer takes the lead on jazz harmonica or piano and trades melodic lines with trumpet, pipa or erhu. The ancient folk songs are transformed. A contemporary nature stems from the incorporation of electric bass riffs, drum backbeats and electronic keyboard wallpaper. Resembling the timbre of a violin, the erhu in Hsin Hsiao-Hung’s hands produces graceful melodies. Similarly, Wong Ching’s pipa offers tremolos and plucked guitar-like melodies. Cheng Man’s guzheng, a Chinese zither, provides much of the harmony for traditional folk passages. The five traditional Asian instruments provide a genuine timbre and style with historical references while the drums, bass and keyboards fold in a contemporary, smooth jazz, NAC flavor.

What makes this project unique is the trade-offs that devlop. Packer, Aristorena, Balbuena, Ledesma and Barker lay down contemporary jazz tracks. Hsiao-Hung, Man, Kong, Chong and Ching provide ancient folk melodies and timbres. But once they’ve established the melody properly, everyone jams. Improvisation on the erhu, guzheng and pipa isn’t much different from the jazz message that Duke Ellington spread around the world. Everyone improvises while swinging madly. Conversely, Packer and the contemporary unit turn to ballad fundamentals to achieve an older Chinese folk music charm on their modern instruments. There’s a give and take involved here that offers hope that one day it’ll all be truly a universal language.

The Hong Kong Dragon Club’s project proves that we live in one jazz world. It’s enjoyable, it’s widely accepted and recognized, and everyone participates in making great music.


Track Listing: Beautiful Island; Green is the Mountain; A Place Far Away; Watering Flowers; Three Gorges of Yang Guan; Azalea; Needle Work; Love Song of the Plain; Just for Tonight; Tale of the Great Wall.

Personnel: David Packer- harmonica, keyboard, percussion, Roland S-50; Rudy Balbuena, Nilo Aristorena- electric bass; Nick Ledesma- drums; Hsin Hsiao-Hung- erhu; Cheng Man- guzheng; Li Tak Kong- yangain; Choo Boon Chong- di; Wong Ching- pipa; Guy Barker- trumpet on "A Place Far Away" and "Watering Flowers."

Title: Take Out | Year Released: 2000 | Record Label: Xien Records


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