IF YOU like jazz, you'll like this album. If you like good music, you'll like this CD. There's no need to understand Chinese in order to enjoy this CD.--- PLEASE BE SURE TO READ the listeners' reviews at the very bottom of this page.
A FEW SHORT stories I’d like to share with you about my wife’s CD -- by David Spain
THE SURPRISE OF TRADITIONAL CHINESE TUNES PERFORMED IN A JAZZ STYLE – For most Americans and others who do not know the Chinese tunes on this CD, the music will instantly be recognizable as jazz—albeit moderately innovative in character. Even the fact that the lyrics are in Chinese and, thus, not generally understandable will not feel all that strange since most of us are used to hearing and enjoying vocal music in languages other than English.
For some Chinese listeners, however, this CD may be quite surprising because much of what is familiar to them has been changed. Every one of the familiar tunes has been re-harmonized, sometimes fairly dramatically, and most have been re-arranged in other ways. For example, one piece that is nearly always performed in 4/4 time is done in 3/4 on this CD. Unusual, surprising chords appear more than once or twice and the percussion lines are complex and sometimes fairly strong. Most significantly, perhaps, the instrumental musicians are more on par with the vocalist.
THE MUSICIANS – The performers on this CD are about as diverse as is possible for the number involved. They range in age from 3 (see next story) to…well, to more than 60, and virtually every decade in between is represented, as are the world’s major racial and ethnic groups. David Friesen, bassist, is a major figure in the world of jazz. Throughout the project, he was a source of great strength and wisdom for Jannie. If you do not know his music, you really should check him out on YouTube or his website (www.davidfriesen.net). Jay Thomas (www.jaythomasjazz.com) also is a major jazz figure with superb skills on six instruments: soprano, alto and tenor saxophones, and trumpet, flugelhorn, and flute. To find out more about Jeff Busch (percussion) and Greg Goebel (piano), go to www.jeffbusch.net and www.greggoebel.com.
ALICE’S CHILDREN’S CHOIR – These kids are amazing, especially from the perspective of language deficient folks like me. They sing in perfect Mandarin Chinese and none of them are native speakers of the language. Indeed, in terms of national and cultural background, they are practically a miniature United Nations. They had learned some of these songs at their daycare center (Whizz Kids Academy of Seattle) before this CD was even an idea. When their teacher, Alice Wei (who is Jannie’s sister), heard about the CD project, she suggested that the children might be a great addition to it, and her idea was accepted. I think the results are heart-warming (listen for them on tracks 5, 10 and 12).
THE INSTRUMENTS – Several of the instruments used during the recording sessions are unusual in one way or another. On most of the vocal tracks, Peter Ma plays an erhu—a two-stringed Chinese instrument with a small (c. 5-6" in diameter) gourd resonating chamber. It is called “erhu” because, in Chinese, “er” (pronounced like the English word “are”) means “two” and “hu” (pronounced like “who”) means “gourd.” It is bowed while being held vertically. The tone can vary from bright and violin-like to mellow and mournful. On some of the tracks, the erhu has a prominent role; on others it is subtle, so it may be necessary to focus a bit to pick it out, but doing so is definitely worth the effort.
David Friesen plays a rare “Hemage” bass designed and made in Austria by Hermann Erlacher. There is a photo of it in the album; it can also be seen on Friesen’s website (www.davidfriesen.net). Instead of a standard drum kit, percussionist Jeff Busch brought to the studio an amazing array of drums, cymbals, gongs, chimes, bells, sticks, gourds and rattles as well as a berimbau—a traditional Brazilian one-stringed percussive instrument. Jeff plays it on two of the tracks (4 & 9).
THE SONG JANNIE WROTE – The CD title, “Sweet Awakening,” is also the title of a song (words and music) that Jannie wrote. It emerged one morning as she was waking. It is my favorite of the whole album. Although Jannie sings this tune in Chinese on the CD, the original English lyrics are printed on the album. They are beautiful and so I want to give them here also: the dawn is breaking; birds softly cooing; daylight starts streaming; I hear you breathing. Slowly I’m waking; my heart is singing; your love caressing; our faces touching. These are the precious times, moments of the divine; it’s a new beginning – a sweet awakening. The sun is rising; my spirits lifting; what a joyful blessing; our love ever lasting.
A WORTHY CAUSE – Jannie plans to use the proceeds from the sale of the CD to support music education for financially disadvantaged students in middle schools in Seattle and in Chengdu, Seattle’s Sister City in China, and also the home area of Jannie’s ancestors as well as many of her living relatives.
THE COVER PAINTINGS, front (shown) and back – When developing the CD artwork, it seemed obvious that scenes of China should be used, but of what type and subject? At one point, David Friesen, the album’s producer, urged us strongly to use water color paintings. The ones used were painted for us by a good friend who lives in Connecticut. The color palette is meant to suggest dawn—i.e., the start of a new day, an awakening. In both paintings, we see a person on a small raft-like boat. The one on the front is a traditional Chinese craft; on the back, the boat is modern and western. Taken together, they are represent the CD as a whole since most of the tunes are old ones familiar to most Chinese but they are done in a Western, jazz style.
THE PHOTOS OF JANNIE – Although they can’t be seen here, I’d like to note that the picture of Jannie in the musician photo montage was taken by my son Andrew especially for the album. I took the other much larger and rather unusual photo. We were staying with friends in a guest room with twin beds on opposite sides of the room. One morning, sensing that Jannie was still asleep and smelling freshly brewed coffee, I started to head for the kitchen. Then I saw that Jannie had just awakened and said something like “You look angelic.” Knowing I had my digital camera, she said, “So take a photo of me so I can see what ‘angelic’ looks like.” The photo you see is the result. When I saw it, I said, “That is ‘Sweet Awakening’ photographed; maybe it should be the cover of your album.” Ultimately, we decided it worked best when seen suddenly, upon opening it.