Annie Chen Octet — Secret Treetop
(Shanghai Audio & Video, 2018, CD / DL)
by Jon Davis, Published 2019-01-02
Jazz as an art form may have been born in the US, but over the century or so (no need to be more precise) of its existence, it has reached all over the world, and people from different backgrounds and cultures bring their own ideas to the music. If you regard jazz more as a method of producing music than a set of standard pieces that musicians assemble, the music stretches far and wide, pretty much everywhere improvisation blends with composition. Annie Chen is a singer who was born in Beijing and grew up on Western as well as Chinese classical music, but when she heard jazz her horizons opened up and she pursued a dream that included ideas from far beyond those beginnings. Secret Treetop is her second album as leader, and features influences from many parts of the world. The opening track is heavily Turkish-inflected in both melody and rhythm, and two pieces are sung in Chinese, one song from Taiwan and the other from Mongolia. Japan also features, with a pair of tracks inspired by anime and literature. Her band is likewise international, with Polish guitarist Rafał Sarnecki handling arranging duties; violinist Tomoko Omura is from Japan and the trumpet is played by a Canadian, David Smith. The other four are Americans: Glenn Zaleski (piano), Alex LoRe (alto saxophone, flute), Mat Muntz (bass), and Jerad Lippi (drums). Chen’s voice, whether interpreting lyrics or sailing free of words, is treated as another instrument, and she’s an extraordinary singer, with good range and intonation, and her inflections sometimes touch on jazz styles, but also range into less fettered areas. The other musicians are outstanding as well, with Omura’s violin especially impressive. There are too many wonderful moments on Secret Treetop to call out individually — every track has a different flavor and all have standout features, whether in individual performances or beautiful interactions. It’s a very impressive work from start to finish, with qualities that won over this jazz fan who generally doesn’t enjoy jazz vocalists.
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