Friday, November 12, 2010

New Chinese Pipa Music by Gao Hong

The pipa stringed instrument has been a fixture of traditional Chinese music for many centuries. More like a guitar (it has a neck, for example) in construction than a koto, in the right hands it has a delicate resonance that distinguishes it from any other. Gao Hong certainly has the right hands.

Gao also has a conceptual mind that dares to compose and arrange music that brings the traditional Chinese instrument into a musical world it has not inhabited before. Quiet Forest, Flowing Stream (Innova 240) is quite an achievement. Mr. Hong plays with a real virtuoso's mastery. He has for this album created six quite varied musical contexts. He can be found playing a fascinating Chinese-Indian hybrid, a contemporary-improvisation-meets-Chinese-meets-Japanese-Taiko-drumming piece, in a quasi-Western-classical mode, and in a solo context where the pipa tradition is invoked with sensitivity and musical bravura.

I've certainly never heard anything like this one before. What's most impressive is not so much that he attempts these unusual and unprecedented stylistic syzygys. It's that the resulting music wholly succeeds; so much so that it even sounds like a natural and inevitable thing that's been happening for centuries, which of course it has not.

I can't say enough nice things about this one. If you want to branch off onto a quite different musical path, listen to this one. It's rather incredible really.

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