Chien Chien Lu – The Path
(Self-release. CD review by Rob Mallows)
I wasn’t sure what to expect from this album by Taiwanese percussionist Chien Chien Lu. I’d never heard of her, but knew of the work of the electric bassist on the album, Richie Goods. That was enough to convince me to give it a go. I’m glad I did.
Lu has been known up to now for being part of Jeremy Pelt’s touring quintet; this is her first foray as band leader, however.
Her band includes many of her bandmates from that quintet, plus other notable guests. So, Jeremy Pelt on trumpet, Shedrick Mitchell on piano, Quintin Zoto on guitar, the aforementioned Richie Goods on bass, Allan Mednard on drums, Ismell Wignall on congas and percussion, Yoojin Park on violin and Phoebe Tsai on cello.
The press notice for this album describes Lu as a ‘protégée’ of Pelt. It must be unnerving for any young player to test out their own material and interpretations of standards under the gaze of their mentor, but it’s also a great chance to prove what they’ve learnt.
Judging by this first album, Lu has learned an awful lot. A baton has been passed.
So, to the music.
We Live in Brooklyn Baby starts with a simple two-note motif by Lu that sounds like the opening bars of a serious police drama, over which she and Zoto repeatedly play a lively central riff in unison, which each of the band gets to develop. Imagine a beat up Lincoln Continental rolling through Brooklyn at three in the morning, the yellow sodium lights reflecting on the bodywork, and you have this track to a tee.
Trumpeter Pelt makes his presence felt on the sparkier second track Invitation, which puts out a welcome mat and entrees for fans of up-tempo, latin-influenced jazz.
The pulsing power of the vibraphone is well demonstrated on a track like Blind Faith, where the sustained opening chords have a sustained presence that tickles the ears, lulling them into submission before Lu rudely embellishes the track. Goods’ bass here is the key to the foot-tapping goodness.
Healthily contemporary in feel and sound production, The Path should nevertheless sit as easily with fans of old-school jazz.
For a debut album this is highly polished with a well-chosen range of tracks. The use of short spoken work interludes over simple musical ideas between some of the tracks is perhaps a little unnecessary – I’m not sure what purpose they serve. Cleansing the musical palate, perhaps?
More surprising is the singing using what I assume is Chinese tonality at the start of Blossom in a Stormy Night; the track offers frequent tempo changes and moods that build a very pleasing overall package which shows off well Mednard’s contribution, particularly his sweet snare sound.
Blue in Green is the obligatory ballad and, while pleasant enough and well delivered, offers little to stiffen the musical sinews.
In contrast, The Imaginary Enemy is more engaging, beginning with some free-jazz style improvisation by drums, guitar and vibraphone that leaves the listener on tenterhooks until it comes to an abrupt halt and Mitchell is given the space to introduce some simple progressions on his own, which setup a perky tune which then keeps on moving up the gears.
Title track The Path starts slow but develops into the best track on the album with some intriguing note choices by Lu that catch the ear and leave you unsure as to which way the track is going to develop.
Mo’ Better Blues sounds just like you’d expect, and is an easy enough way to end the album
I feared 12 tracks of vibraphone and marimba might be over-egging the pudding somewhat, but The Path sat easily with me. This strong debut shows that as a composer, Lu has much to offer.