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Dennis Rea - 2010 - "Views from Chicheng Precipice"

(46:57, MoonJune Records)



1.  Three View from Chicheng Precipice 10:00
2.  Tangabata 15:55
3.  Kan Hai Re Zi 3:41
4.  Aviariations 6:48 
5.  Bagua 10:32


Dennis Rea – guitars; jaw harp; melodica; kalimba; dau bau
Alicia Allen – viola (1, 3)
Ruth Davidson – cello (1, 3)
James DeJoie – flutes, clarinet (2)
Stuart Dempster – trombone (2)
Greg Campbell – drums (2)
Jay Jascot – drums (3)
Kevin Millard – baliset (3)
Paul Kukuchi – percussion (5)
John Falconer – shakubachi (5)
Elizabeth Falconer – koto (5)
Caterina De Re – voices (4)
Will Dowd – drums (1)

Prolusion. Dennis REA is an American, Seattle-based musician and songwriter, whose corresponding experience counts more than two decades. He played with several US artists and bands, such as Iron Kim Style and Moraine, in particular, and also collaborated with many Chinese musicians. “Views from Chicheng Precipice” is his latest solo effort, released some five months ago. The CD press kit says: “When living in China from 1989 to 1993, and on subsequent tours and travels, Dennis Rea became deeply enamored by the Far Eastern traditional music”. Rea himself describes the release as his “love letter to a part of the world that has enriched” his life “immeasurably – musically and otherwise".

Analysis. Performed with the use of Far Eastern instruments as well as, say, Western ones, the album embraces three stylings, the first of those referring to native Chinese music, at least most of the time. The second one is academic chamber music, evincing elements of classical, and also some of those of neo-classical / avant-garde. The third style is jazz, with hints of Jazz Rock here and there. Directly linked with improvisations, this is a feature that is to a lesser or greater degree typical of each of the five tracks here. Disc opener, its title piece (10:00), is a sort of trilogy, and – while penned by Rea – is the richest in the region’s aboriginal colorations, suggesting a chamber take on Chinese traditional music all over its first and third segments, save the fact that the latter additionally reveals some heavy, dark-tone guitar riffing. Both the parts are overall superb, albeit the first one somewhat lacks in depth (from a classic progressive viewpoint), as quite a few of the themes there are played with almost a straggly unison line between the instruments involved, namely guitar, cello and violin. The music, however, is very beautiful, and the section itself appears to be a collector of the album’s most melodic aspects. The suite’s core part offers us two very different moves, one of which, Pink Floyd-evoking, is dominated by the guitar (Dennis almost imitates David Gilmour in delivery there, whilst otherwise his playing is always very personal), and another represents a set of eclectic improvisations. Although the segment features a drum kit, the music only remotely resembles rock – above all because the drumming is in both cases (sic!) way looser and freer than that in classic Jazz-Fusion. The rest of the material presents Dennis as an interpreter of others’ compositions. The two creations that follow the disc opener, the 17-minute Tangabata and Kan Hai Re Zi (3:41), blend together European chamber music and the Chinese native one, at times revealing even RIO-like moves, and are both my favorite tracks here, in spite of the huge difference in length between them, as well as some other distinguishing features. Just for instance: the epic stands out for its lush woodwind and brass colorations, and frequently changes in pace and structure. The latter, in turn, is intense throughout, and is mainly a guitar-, cello- and violin-driven piece. Although the drumming still mostly bears a free-jazz character, the end result is in both cases amazingly compelling music, at once unpredictable and highly coherent. Then follows Aviariations (6:48), coming as “Variations on the perennially popular Chinese piece A Hundred Birds Serenade the Phoenix”. Most of the track draws a picture of the boundless rice field, where there are only twitters of birdies, imitated by a female singer Caterina De Re, and, well, slowly droning guitar solos. Occasionally, Caterina also seems to copy a crow’s cawing, unless it is not Phoenix’s response to the serenade :-). I would really prefer that Dennis not delve so deeply into the Chinese village folklore, as it’s simply beyond me. It’s just extremely exotic of a sort. The album finishes with Bagua (10:32), the only track here that isn’t based on the above country’s traditions. The music is lushly spiced with Japanese native motifs, alternating between quasi Jazz Rock (which features the players’ joint leads in 4th and/or 5th and their freer improvisations as well), and various drum and percussion solos in pure form/just as they are. The latter stuff is creative in its own way, but isn’t something I’m inclined to listen to, either.

Conclusion. Dennis Rea’s latest effort appears as largely a tribute to the Chinese music, showing his depth of knowledge of the country’s aboriginal cultural legacy in general. With the exception of Serenade (which strongly lacks in instrumentation, to say the least), all the tracks here are sonically saturated and are delivered with sheer confidence. The album comes recommended mainly to those who are equally into world, chamber and jazz music.

VM=Vitaly Menshikov: October 6, 2010
The Rating Room

Related Links:

MoonJune Records
Dennis Rea


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