Saturday, March 30, 2013

In Review--Chinese Tales & an Erhu

Orchid Ensemble 
Life Death Tears Dream
Independent Release (Canada)

 I first encountered the Orchid Ensemble at the Vancouver Folk Music Festival in 2003.  That same summer a publicist representing several Vancouver-based ensembles and bands, sent me Heartland (the ensemble's 2000 CD), then in 2004, I connected with Lan Tung, the founder of Orchid Ensemble and the erhu (Chinese fiddle) player.  She sent me the CD, Road to Kashgar.  Both recordings, world music with an emphasis on classical Chinese songs and instruments left an impression on me.  Now, almost a decade after the ensemble’s second CD, I received Life Death Tears Dream in the post.

While Heartland featured Chinese songs and Road to Kashgar featured Silk Road songs, the latest recording melds western and eastern music thus presenting world music in the broadest sense.  For instance, you might wonder about the Spanish titled song, Ay La Llamo which spotlights Lan Tung belting out flamenco while she accompanies herself on the erhu.  Tung holds her weight, even against Andalusian gypsy singers.  East meets West also on the titular track when a western choir sings Chinese text accompanied by the erhu and Chinese zither.  And there are some interesting musical excursions here in which I like some compositions more than others.  For instance, I find Three Variations on Plum Blossoms with its slow and moody erhu, the zither’s bent notes, marimba and chimes delightful.  I also enjoy Al Kol Hama-asim with the polyphonic voices of the instruments and Wind Desires the Clouds with its stunning vocals.

However, the ensemble leaves me in the dust with the overly haunting Ghostly Moon, which is too performance art for my taste, and Cocoon which sounds gloomy to my ears.  Overall though,  Lan Tung, Haiqiong Deng (zheng-a Chinese zither) and Jonathan Bernard (marimba and percussion) bring their diverse talents and expertise to another intriguing musical conversation.  Orchid Ensemble composes and arranges music as intricate as a puzzle and as delicate as a spring blossom.

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