into my mailbox I found a small package that had been sent by Canadian
label Za Discs, which up to that point had been totally unknown to me.
Here come two surprises, the first (really ugly, this one) being that the
Italian Postal (dis)Service had decided to make me fork out five euros,
due to...? (For a review copy which I had never asked for? So I'm lucky
that not too many labels send me promos!) The nice part of the story being
that, upon opening the package, I immediately saw that one of the musicians
involved was pianist Paul Plimley. But who was the lady at his side, and
what was that strange instrument she was shown playing? ("Improvisations
For Zheng And Piano", went the subtitle.)
think Plimley is a well-known pianist, thanks also to his collaborations
such as the ones with bass players Barry Guy and Lisle Ellis, and to his
work with the NOW Orchestra, the line-up of which he is a co-founder. This
is the first time that I have had the pleasure to listen to Mei Han (the
booklet immediately told me what I needed to know about her CV) and to
the ancient and noble instrument called Zheng that she plays: to simplify
things quite a bit, it looks almost like a harp about 5' long that you
play in a horizontal position; provided I counted right it has 25 strings;
sometimes to me it sounded quite similar to a harp, but with a range more
in the middle-low region; at times I was reminded of an acoustic guitar
(during some "bluesy" moments I thought about the man who's the
most "oriental-sounding" among all the European improvisers:
Hans Reichel), or a harpsichord, or the right hand on a piano playing "stride".
tracks in fifty minutes tell of a concentrated, careful breathing. The
cover writes about "improvisations", and there is no reason to
doubt this, even if sometimes (the opening theme in Terra Mova, which would
be appropriate accompanying the opening credits of a film noir; the incredibly
precise closing moments of Emptied Diligence; some overlapping melodic
phrases on Matter Into Waves) it all sounds almost too incredible. This
is the type of improvisation that has deliberately chosen to work within
a defined set of parameters, which in my opinion makes this album a lot
more "entertaining" (and destined to be played fairly often)
than it's usually the case with a lot of CDs of improvised music (where
quite often one thinks something like "I should have been there").
that are wide open, interchangeable roles, the players showing a sympathetic
approach that appears to testify of a long musical relationship. Quite
often the tracks inhabit slow, meditative atmospheres, where sometimes
the notes from the upper part of the keyboard reminded me of the meditative
side of Muhal Richard Abrams, but there are also very fast moments. Ume
is an album which possesses both depth and (relatively speaking) user-friendliness.
It could work quite well as an "intelligent background", but
it would be a pity to leave it in the background, right?
Beppe Colli 2006
CloudsandClocks.net | Sept.