Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Jazz in Beijing

Posted By on Wed, Jun 17, 2009 at 3:14 PM

We wrapped up our trip in China's capital city, Beijing. Beijing is just as international as

Shanghai, but has a much longer cultural history. The Forbidden City is there as is the

Temple of Heaven and sections of the Great Wall.

After checking out Beijing's rock scene, I wanted to see some live jazz. As it happens,

Beijing was having it's yearly "Nine Gates Festival" which is named after the nine gates

of the Forbidden City. The festival had events in the Forbidden City itself and in jazz

clubs around the city. I caught the Canadian Yannick Rieu Quartet which played for

two nights at the East Shore Jazz Cafe. The cafe sits on Hou Hai, a fabulous outdoor

lake area that sits behind the Forbidden City. Indeed, the club has a terrace that

you can go up on in between sets for fresh and a great view of the lake.


The Yannic Rieu Quartet was a force to be reckoned with! A nasty tenor-sax player,

a guitarist who sang every note that he played, a fretless bass player and a monster

drummer. The first night, they paid homage to John Coltrane. The movie above

is a combination of three clips, the first two taken on the first night. You'll see that

the group began each song as it was written but then took it to more experimental places.

They had an uncanny ability to jump right back into the form of the tune, that is, to jump

back and forth between form and formlessness. My friends thought that it was just noise,

so I tried to point out how the musicians were communicating the whole time; quoting each

others licks, playing with dynamics, experimenting with rythm and so on.

The second night, the group played material from its new release Project Spectra. This was

modern jazz with hints of world-beat thrown in. The third clip is from this night. Notice

how crazy and tight the group is... all at the same time.

So, this is my last post from China and here are a few closing thoughts:

1 - China's music scene is thriving.

2 - Chinese opera is just plain difficult to listen to.

3 - Many genres of music are global and it was a joy to see Chinese musicians making jazz, rock, punk and power-pop their own.

4 - A city's music scene reflects its status. International cities like Shanghai and Beijing have much more diverse offerings and more diverse crowds than do the cities in China's interior like Chengdu.

5 - As Bill Hannah says, jazz standards are standard the world over. I heard Coltrane's Mr. PC in Beijing and the Meters' Cissy Strutt in Shanghai. Tunes I play here in Charlotte!

6 - I wanna go back and see more!

Thanks for coming along!

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