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Chien Chien Lu: The Path

Dan Bilawsky By

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Chien Chien Lu: The Path
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 streams—culturally, with relation to her Taiwanese roots and American existence, and musically, with respect to the collision of classical and jazz ideals.

A number of covers—the 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.

Track Listing

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.

Personnel

Chein Chien Lu: vibraphone; Shedrick Mitchell: piano; Richie Goods: bass; Allan Mednard: drums; Jeremy Pelt: trumpet; Quintin Zoto: guitar; Ismel Wignall: percussion; Yoojin Park: violin; Phoebe Tsai: cello; Lisa Lee: voice / vocals.

Album information

Title: The Path | Year Released: 2020 | Record Label: Self Released

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