Currently living in Seattle, guitarist/composer Dennis Rea's musical history is quite long and twisted, taking him from Chicago to New York City and mainland China, where he worked for a time as a teacher. He has played and recorded with more than a few bands during that time, including Moraine, Jeff Greinke's Land, Kerry Leimer's Savant, and his own formation Stackpole. He also recorded one of the first releases in China by a western musician, put out by the state run record label which subsequently sold over 40,000 copies. Views from Chicheng Precipice is the first western release under his own name. His compositions here are played by a large group of Northwest stalwarts, including Greg Campbell, Elizabeth Falconer, Stuart Dempster and Will Dowd,
Each of the 5 pieces on the disc comes with a brief explanatory note from Rea, which can be helpful in understanding where his music is coming from. "Three Views from Chicheng Precipice" was inspired by Tang Dynasty poet Bai Juyi's "A Flower" and the Daoist sanctuary of Qingcheng Mountain in China's Sichuan Province. The brief introductory theme is repeated by bowed and plucked strings, at first legato and then a bit faster with added rhythm from clay pot drums. It's a really beautiful sound. A key change signals the second view, which follows the same program, the rhythm this time provided by plucked bass. Rea's guitar solo here is especially nice. Then it's a quick press roll on the drums and things go all scattery-rhythm abandoned, strings adding bits of melodies and other notes rising and falling as though played backwards on a tape. Rubbery guitar and hovering cello sit with thudding drums. Heavy metal guitar chords underscore the closing theme.
"Tangabata" is a setting of a very old ceremonial melody, dropped into free jazz drumming. "Kan Hai De Re Zi (Days By the Sea)" is an adaptation of a contemporary Taiwanese tune, which adds western harmonies to what is usually a non-harmonized music. It's one of my favorite tunes on offer . The chord progression and violin playing conjure up memories of Larks Tongue-era King Crimson, Rea's passion for prog showing through.
Aviarations (sic) on "A Hundred Birds Serenade The Phoenix" begins with solo acoustic guitar and strident Chinese opera styled voice. The birds of the title are ably depicted by Caterina De Re, surrounded by whistling, sliding, and effects laden guitars. Inspired by Messiaen, Cathy Berberian, Sichuan opera and Korean P'ansori, the influences are quite apparent.
The final "Bagua (Eight Trigrams)" is based on Daoist ritual music, with its booming drums and high-pitched bamboo flutes it is somewhat similar to Gagaku in sound, though not in form. It flows in a stately manner, played by an intriguing blend of guitar, koto and pitched percussion. The entire program was well recorded, giving space to the individual instruments while revealing their inherent sonic properties. One wonders what Rea would do with an orchestra.
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