August 13, 2009
The Miyumi Project
Live In Poland
Sociologically as well as musically notable, this live session captures the excitement engendered by the performance of a Chicago-based Asian-American ensemble at a Polish music festival. This is more than a clichéd tale about music’s universality. For here are 800 people in a small Eastern European city clapping along to sounds produced not only by the familiar Western instruments of saxophonists Francis Wong and Mwata Bowden, violinist Jonathan Chen and bassist Tatsu Aoki, but those of Hide Yoshihashi, Amy Homma and Melody Takata – traditional Japanese taiko drums that have no musical scales or devices for controlling the sound.
Furthermore, despite the drums’ historical use, the textures being produced by the three are anything but expected. For a start, the rhythms output by the percussionists often take on conga or bongo intimations. There are even sonic echoes of the Dominican tambora, where tonal variety is produced by hitting one head with a single stick while the other is damped by hand.
As for the non-drummers, while Chen, who now lives in Germany, uses electronics to cement his attachment to New music as well as improvisation, the other are committed jazz improvisers. Aoki regularly plays with AACM stalwarts such as saxophonists Fred Anderson and Roscoe Mitchell; Wong has recorded with jazz originals like saxophonist John Tchicai and cornetist Bobby Bradford; and Bowden is a charter member of the Chicago-based 8 Bold Souls.
Most of the time in Poland Aoki’s thumping groove and Bowden’s snorting double-tonguing provide the pedal-point base upon which the others can improvise. With a swift nasal tone, Wong’s cries often suggest suona textures as well as post-Coltrane multiphonics. Similarly Chen’s flying staccato and obtuse tremolo forays work that territory midway between abrasive Billy Bang-like sawing and the harsh cadences of an erhu. At points, stepping away from the drummers’ foot-tapping beat, the four others explode into quadruple counterpoint. Aoki and Chen slide and pick sul ponticello passages from their strings, Wong’s soprano trills and Bowden’s baritone growls.
Besides vamping, each of the reedists is also capable of upticking timbres into false registers and creating irregular pitch vibratos. Plus there are exciting points where the fiddler’s sequences reflect the sort of spiky, southwestern riffs Claude Williamson would play more than anything heard in southwestern China – or southwestern Poland for that matter,
Following a percussion discussion involving a multitude of paradiddles and ruffs from the three taikoists, the performance reaches a climax with “Episode Four”. As Aoki holds down the beat so steadily he could be playing an electric bass, melodic interludes are invoked. Perhaps because of the location, either the soprano saxist or Bowden on clarinet spins out some freylach-like lines, while taking his cue from Roma violinists, Chen plucks and bows in equal measure, alternating tremolo passages and multi-stopping. Ultimately, following some mid-range saxophone smears and cries, the entire band modulates back to the head accompanied by hand clapping form the audience,
A fine example of cross-cultural musical exchange, Live In Poland should satisfy a variety of audiences of many backgrounds.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. Now 2. Episode One 3. Episode Four 4. Lacquer
Personnel: Francis Wong (soprano saxophone); Mwata Bowden (clarinet and baritone saxophone); Jonathan Chen (violin and electronics); Tatsu Aoki (bass) and Hide Yoshihashi, Amy Homma and Melody Takata (taiko drums)