Orchid Ensemble : Life Death Tears Dream (CN,2012)***°’
The whole concept of this album is woven around Chinese poems. At the same time it associates several sorts of historical and contemporary meeting points with the Chinese past, via other cultures (flamenco), or via contemporary projects, with the help of some contributing Chinese and Western composers, led from its home base in Canada where it found its ways of inter-cultural exchange.
The sensibility of the 2/3rd Chinese ensemble is that of a traditional ensemble having also a new music form, balancing between very different ways of hearing and playing music and even via the, at times, odd sounding combinations of different scales or unusual rhythmical interpretations, so that this might take a few listens before getting a grip upon it especially where the balance between such elements shows a delicate interference. Elsewhere, the enrichment of various worlds becomes much more clear for the position of one area where it is felt different. Basically, it always is this new music based Chinese Ensemble that leads its own basic form and sonority everywhere, incorporating with it a whole variety of new meeting points.
An additional new element that is different from a mere traditional viewpoint is already shown in the first track, which starts in rather Chinese style of improvisation, playing as if from an inner melody. This eastern core of sensibility is enriched with marimba that already swings a bit too, while on the last part, a complex 9-beat rhythm brings us to an interesting and extra new variation, which the Ensemble says it used for it a series of modulations inspired by Balkan music!
The second track is a musical reflection of a Chinese poem by Li Bai (Li Po) of the Tang dynasty that is interpreted basically by the foundation from a new music form of a Chinese Ensemble from an older tradition. The third track stretches the played notes from a similar mode building of music (zither-led and improvised with Chinese violin), but this time it is basing itself upon an original ancient Chinese composition from Huan Yi, composed from around 350 AD.
An new odd form of improvisation is shown via a flamenco traditional sung by Japanese flamenco singer Kei Ooka, on which the erhu improvises in response while reaching the other one’s presence without reaching with it a true meeting point, maybe perhaps because there is not taken enough time for that occasion, or this short moment is left to be a reference mostly, this still leaves us a bit on the edge of confusion and fusion.
A very beautiful and enriching world is shown in the title track, a track which is based upon a composition by contemporary composer Yawen V.Wang, which shows ping pong rhythms and some beautiful choir arrangements, performed and composed in a rather western or classical music way, featuring some harp-like arrangements and some marimba-based, rhythmical accents. It has a strong a contemporary feel, and also is a beautiful fusion between an orchestral classical harp-music sort of sensibility and classical western choral music, mixed with the chamber music delicacy of a more new-traditional Chinese music based ensemble. The lyrics that are used came from poems by Taiwanese contemporary poet Hsiung Hung. This piece was commissioned by the Egret Music Centre to perform with the Ensemble.
Also the next piece is a contemporary piece, which shows a rather jazzy, melodic smoothness with it. It is a composition by Moshe Denburg who is the director of the Vancouver Inter-Cultural Orchestra.
The next track starts with a descriptive harp-like playing, which seems to imitate the wind in the leaves. It features breathy background vocals. It is a rather filmic song, originally written for the shortfilm “Chinatown.”
“Hayot Hakodesh” shows a jazzy fusion style and some overlapping rhythms/melodies. It is a great swinging composition led by erhu mostly that could be used for a great live performance, as a track where it could show its improvisational strength and power.
“Cocoon” sounds more contemporary in style. It is slightly dramatic and melancholic. The marimba here has some amplified effect to it. It is a composition by Mark Armanini, and was also commissioned by the ensemble. The piece was used for the interdisciplinary show “Triaspora”.
The last piece, “Ghostly Moon” is a staged story, used for a multidisciplinary stage performance. It is a commission by the Ensemble to Barry Truax, with voices on tape by Kathy Borneman andChris Grigor, using translated Chinese texts for it. Basically, this longer track accompanies a ghost story, where the Ensemble delivers more texturing melodic repetitions. Also hear you can hear the use of some vibrating, filmic echo.
The Orchid Ensemble shows a way to how an Ensemble with Chinese traditional instruments is able to express new music for a modern world without forgetting the heritage of the old one. Even though it merely shows at times rather small and only quickly touched reference points, these can be even more inspiring places to go to, are holding a possible future.