Calling vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Jen Shyu brilliant, and her style unique, underestimates both her ingenuity as a composer and the distinctiveness of her oeuvre. Shyu has forged her own path in creative music with an intrepid spirit and restless innovation. Her eighth release as a leader is the intensely personal Zero Grasses: Ritual For The Losses. A cycle of songs which is equally about bereavement and injustice as it is about solace and hope, its message transcends the individual, reaching social and universal levels.
Bassist Thomas Morgan starts off "Father Slipped Into Eternal Dream" with pensive, bittersweet lines. Shyu's mournful vocals, framed by the somber yet riotous performance of her bandmates, brim with spirituality. The song's words form a straightforward and poignant narrative about life, the inevitability of death and making peace with loss. Shyu fills her chanting recitation with sorrow and fiery passion, yet concludes on a serene note. Her sidemen complement her singing harmonically and emotionally with deft elegance.
Elsewhere, on "Lament for Breonna Taylor ,'' drummer Dan Weiss' sparse strikes and Shyu's whispering voice build a haunting ambience. Trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, with his reverberating tones, together with violist Mat Maneri, who mirrors Morgan's con arco phrases, play an intimate dirge. Shyu tells Taylor's tragic story with subtle drama and poignant poetry. She expresses sadness interwoven with anger as the track merges into the next, "The Human Color,'' a contemplative condemnation of racism.
Shyu also plays a couple of stringed instruments, the Taiwanese moon lute and the Japanese biwa. She opens the moving "Display of the Moon" with an introspective, strummed solo. A polyglot, Shyu sings in Japanese a wistful and ethereal ballad, accompanying herself on the biwa . Akinmusire's expansive trumpet underscores the expressive melody with delightful tension. Weiss and Morgan alternate spare and vivid thumps and thuds adding to the piece's mysticism and devotional atmosphere.
As with Shyu's other albums, Zero Grasses: Ritual For The Losses is a singular, genre-defying work of sublime beauty. With it, Shyu has recorded her best work to date and one which is simultaneously timely and timeless. The disc's superb balance of sentiments, together with its absorbing artistry and imaginative compositions, make a provocative and rewarding listening experience.
Living's a Gift | Part 1: Springtime; Living's a Gift | Part 2: Everything for Granted; Living's a Gift | Part 3: My Unsolved Regrets; Living's a Gift | Part 4: Joyful;
Lament for Breonna Taylor; The Human Color; A Cure for the Heart's Longing; Body of Tears; When I Have Power; Finally She Emerges; Display Under the
Moon; Father Slipped Into Eternal Dream; With Eyes Closed You See All; Life As You Envision.