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CD Feature/ Weng Zhenfa: "Stream Flowing"

img  Tobias

Maybe, in accordance with Roger Waters, we don’t need no education when it comes to listening to music, no matter how complex or complicated it may seem. But it can be helpful to learn to listen to music, which would usually be alien to us, without allowing initial prejudices to take over. And it deserves our fullest respect if there are still labels out there who are confident and passionate enough to release a CD solely with Chines mouth organ music. For, after a potentially difficult first contact, there is so much to discover on “Stream Flowing” that it puts quite a lot of contemporary experimental releases to shame.

It already starts getting interesting with the history behind the instruments involved. The sheng is quite a remarkable counterpart to the harmonica, which artists such as Bob Dylan helped popularise in the 70s. Much bigger and with an impressive set of two symmetrical arrays of pipes, it is capable of producing multifold sounds, harmonies and polyphonic melodies. Originally made of bamboo reed, innovation slowly but surely led to the metal version used by famous Chinese sheng-master Weng Zhenfa on this record. Coincidentally, Weng has been an influential figure in establishing the current form of the sheng himself, an instrument with roots going back over 2.000 years. While the tongue-shaped pipes stronfly influenced the creation of the European organ as we know it, the Occident was helpful in bringing the zither or Yangqin, to China – the traditional accompaniment to plays and operas and also to Weng’s mouth organ on “Stream Flowing”. The combination of the two sounds, the sometimes contemplative and then again playful Yangqin and the melancholic and romantic sheng, works wonderfully well in taking the listener out of time. There is a lot of space in these eleven pieces and a peaceful calm and tranquility, which draws one in completely. And the element of storytelling only adds to this, as it takes one by the hand and into richly detailed scenes of every-day life or the beautiful country side of ancient China. The songs have simple, but expressive titles such as “Tea Delivery” and the booklet delivers short, but poignant descriptions of their content: “The song describes people in the home of tea – Hunan Province – carrying tea leaves, happily delivering them and looking forward to the future”. Makes you wish you were there with them.

Admittedly, it is not an easy task listening even to the most exquisite pieces by this ensemble for an entire hour in a row. But this is neither the point, nor can it be expected. After the ears have become accustomed to the melodic lines and the development of the pieces, things immediately gain in depth and emotional power. Educating yourself about the history of Chinese music is no necessity to enjoy this CD. But, in accordance with Massimo Vignelli and the Celestial Harmonies label, it helps to “believe, express and defend your responsibility towards society of not producing cultural trash” – and release an album like “Stream Flowing”

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Celestial Harmonies Records

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