20 September 2010

Monday's mp3: Chinese Ragas from Gao Hong

"Butterfly," the song that opens Gao Hong's new album Quiet Forest, Flowing Stream, was commissioned in part by the Minnesota State Arts Board. That and the inclusion of cello and Indian elements (veena, tabla, sitar, vocals) reinforce the album's subtitle: New Chinese Pipa Music.

I'm no scholar of classical Chinese music, but it's clear to me that in her compositions as well as her playing, Gao takes a multicultural approach, and the results are fascinating. They're also relatively for those who may find straight traditional Chinese music somewhat obscure and inaccessible.

The songs do take a little patience. They're long, ranging from over five minutes to ten minutes, and some (such as "Courage," a song dedicated to Gao's daughter's successful fight with illness) include meandering, almost free-jazz sections. Then there's the Western classical meets Chinese classical duet for pipa and piano called "Flying Dragon Concerto," a unique and fascinating composition that Gao says explores the challenges of her nomadic lifestyle.

I expect I'll need more time, more listens, to appreciate all the depths and subtleties of this album, and I'm happy to give it that needed time. Approach this one as you would a concert, rather than a pop radio station, and you'll come away with rich reward.

[mp3] Gao Hong: Butterfly
from the album Quiet Forest, Flowing Stream
(Innova, 2010)

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