Mei Han and Red Chamber: Classical and Contemporary Chinese Music (ARC Music)

 |   |  1 min read

Peng Baban
Mei Han and Red Chamber: Classical and Contemporary Chinese Music (ARC Music)
For Western ears, the sound of Chinese music falls into cliché (“Oh, Chinese music . . . riiight.”) or something so discordant (traditional opera) that it's easy to dismiss on a cursory listen.

However – setting preconceptions aside if that is possible – this album by a child of the diaspora brings a bigger picture.

Mei Han learned the plucked-string zheng tradition in China, travelled extensively and studied ethnomusicology in Canada and is currently an associate professor at a university in Tennessee.

As in her life, she crosses musical boundaries.

A piece like Dark Red Ruby – written for her by Moshe Denburg – sounds more acoustic prog-rock and closer to emotionally elevating klezmer and bazouki styles.

Some of this – despite being on traditional instruments like the zhen and pipa – moves into a generic world music/Sino-crossover and pulls up the anchor from its Chinese roots. Reference points here – outlined in the useful notes – include music from North Borneo, Bulgaria and koto from Japan (on the rather pleasingly poised Nokoto for the latter).

Elsewhere however there is the elegantly reflective Hian Medley which looks back many centuries into the Chinese tradition of court music.

Those of us who do not know the centuries of this tradition might feel that between the New Age resonances ( the evocative but surface-skimming Girls Picking Flowers) and the deeply rooted pieces (the delicate Peng Baban which unfurls over 10 minutes) there is something here which sound – but often isn't -- traditional and maybe appeals to ideas about Chinese music perhaps more than specifics.

The album title doesn't mislead but the pieces which borrow from other sources are not quite as persuasive as the traditional (or updated traditional) pieces.

For more on Chinese music at Elsewhere start here. For an amusement about the pipa go here.

Share It

Your Comments

post a comment

More from this section   World Music articles index

ZAKIR HUSSAIN INTERVIEWED (1999): Has tabla, will travel

ZAKIR HUSSAIN INTERVIEWED (1999): Has tabla, will travel

Early morning in Paris and the start of another long day for Zakir Hussain, master of the tabla drums and son of tabla legend Ustad Alla Rakha. Hussain speaks of the previous day's programme:... > Read more

Various Artists: Soul Sok Sega (Strut/Southbound)

Various Artists: Soul Sok Sega (Strut/Southbound)

A couple of weeks ago we pulled a track from this thoroughly enjoyable (and not a little confusing) compilation to post at From the Vaults.  But this double vinyl (with a CD disc and... > Read more

Elsewhere at Elsewhere

Tedeschi Trucks Band: Revelator (Masterworks)

Tedeschi Trucks Band: Revelator (Masterworks)

Anyone who caught the husband and wife team of Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi in New Zealand recently were perhaps familiar with guitarist Trucks' impressive Allman Brothers/Eric Clapton pedigree,... > Read more

THE KRONOS QUARTET COMES TO TOWN (1988): The Talking Heads of the classical world

THE KRONOS QUARTET COMES TO TOWN (1988): The Talking Heads of the classical world

When David Harrington hit the stage it was with a lot of style. Wearing a lurex T-shirt, leather pants and ankle boots, and a tight black jacket he looked every inch the lean and rangy musician... > Read more