For vibraphonist Chien Chien Lu
, the path to jazz wasn't direct. She rode a contemporary classical percussion track into her twenties in her native Taiwan, but, as it turned out, that drive was less about reaching a destination than it was about the act of discovery: A growing desire for musical freedom and adventure eventually set Chien Chien on a different course, steering her toward jazz and a life in New York. Now, after making herself comfortable in the jazz mecca and turning plenty of heads in the employ of trumpeter Jeremy Pelt
, she forges her own direction on this arresting debut.
Leading a crack band that includes pianist Shedrick Mitchell
, bassist/producer Richie Goods
and drummer Allan Mednard
as the core, Chien Chien immediately establishes herself as a groove-conscious harmonist. She draws from an extensive color palette in her work, values the powers of space and suggestion, lays into a line as good as anybody, and paints what's, in essence, a portrait of a soulful modernist on the rise. From the simmering, thrumming funk of Roy Ayers
' "We Live in Brooklyn Baby," which opens the album, to the organ-coated, cool-headed sermonizing on "Mo' Better Blues," which wraps things up, Chien Chien remains engaged and engaging in every respect. Hints of two-mallet masters, from Milt Jackson
to Ayers and Stefon Harris
to Warren Wolf
, seep into her lines, yet she plays with a distinctive voice shaped by a unique merging of streamsculturally, with relation to her Taiwanese roots and American existence, and musically, with respect to the collision of classical and jazz ideals.
A number of coversthe aforementioned material, a Latin-spiced "Invitation" featuring some primo Pelt, a glistening "Blue in Green"offer a window into Chien Chien's interpretive powers. But her gifts as a composer also come through clearly on the album. "The Imaginary Enemy," with a searching marimba introduction, Goods-grounded glide and stormy sendoff, is but one example of how Chien Chien makes worlds converge; "Tears and Love," dedicated to the vibraphonist's grandmother and riding a line between glistening beauty and slow-flow neo-soul, is another; and the title track, conceptually teased with several conversationally-enhanced vignettes spread across the program and shifting from rolling episodes to rocking realms, is a third. With eyes on tradition and innovation, a clear understanding of several musical languages and currents, an appreciation for inlets and outlets at work, and open-minded mallets in motion, Chien Chien Lu makes a notable splash with The Path
We Live in Brooklyn Baby; Invitation; Blind Faith; The Path Interlude 1; Blossom in a Stormy Night; Blue in Green; The Path Interlude 2;
The Imaginary Enemy; Tears and Love; The Path Interlude 3; The Path; Mo' Better Blues.