September 20, 2000
Asian Improv Records AIR 0044
Jon Jang is a genre-bender who isn't afraid of a challenge. A former college wrestler turned pianist, he showcased his hammerlock on the Eastern and the Jazz tradition with such heavyweight partners as saxophonist David Murray and flautist James Newton four years ago with TWO FLOWERS ON A STEM (Soul Note 121253-2).
If that sextet outing wasn't impressive enough he's upped the ante still farther with this disc. Accompanies only by erhu (Chinese two-string violin) player Chen who also played impressively on TWO FLOWERS, he's moved into the champion leagues by creating the Beijing Trio with her and veteran drummer Roach.
Considering that Roach was literally there at bop's earliest dissemination as part of Charlie Parker's quintet, it may appear that the Chen-Jang tag team is in the position of a couple of high school wrestlers competing against a World Wrestling Federation superstar.
But this is improvised music not pro wrestling. Participants may perspire and grimace, but it's part of trying to locate the exact sound they want from their instruments, not the result of some muscle-bound behemoth's leglock. BEIJING TRIO works so well, in fact, due to the spirit of cooperation exhibited by musicians from North Carolina (Roach), North China (Chen) and North Carolina (Jang).
On "Now's the TIME!" for instance, the erhu's otherworldly cry is used as a leitmotif, as Jang explorers the keyboard perimeters and Roach massages different parts of his kit. Here and on "Heart in a Different Place", as a matter of fact, the drummer isn't afraid to drop a few bass drum bombs, confident that the others are confident enough to withstand the assault.
It shouldn't be a surprise Roach can function in these circumstances, either. A forward-thinker from the beginning, he's the only original beboper who has made a point of facing off with experimenters such as Archie Shepp, Cecil Taylor and Anthony Braxton.
Still capable of the same breathtaking percussion prestidigitation as he's shown over the past 50 years, Roach's turns his two duets with Jang — which open and close the CD — into demonstrations of his rapid reflexes. Unintimidated Jang stays true to his conception, throughout, allowing swathes of Oriental-tinged melodies to illuminate his solos.
Overall, BEIJING TRIO is a satisfying experience for everyone concerned — especially the listener.
Track Listing: 1. Moon Over the Great Wall 2. Sweet Whisper of a Flower 3. Heart in a Different Place 4. Fallen Petals 5. Now's the TIME! 6. When The Blossoms Bloom 7. The Flowing Stream
Personnel: Jon Jang (piano); Jiebing Chen (erhu); Max Roach (drums)