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Dennis Rea - 2021 - "Giant Steppes"

(49:30; Moonjune Records)


*****!

Back in 2010 I was introduced to Dennis Rea when Moonjune sent me his remarkable album, ‘Views From Chicheng Precipice’. I was absolutely mesmerised by a release which attempted to capture traditional Chinese music and make it available to Western ears, and it had a huge impact on me, so much so that it is an album I always have on my iPhone and return to it often. I managed to get in contact with Dennis, and a while later he sent me his excellent book, ‘Live at the Forbidden City: Musical Encounters in China and Taiwan’, which tells of the time he spent living there – he was one of few Westerners in the country at the time of the Tiananmen Incident – and reading that in conjunction with playing the music was an all-encompassing experience. Dennis has long been a stalwart of the Seattle scene, known for being an experimental and improvisational guitarist of some renown, who has had a major impact on other players. Here he has taken time away from his other bands and has again looked to Asia for inspiration, focussing this time on the Uyghur homeland of Xinjiang, the Altai and Tuva regions of Russia, and Tibet, all through the lens of his own personal experiences. This is not as traditional sounding as it may seem, as here he has taken these influences and styles and mixed them with a modern Western jazz approach which allows for some incredible fusion. Somehow, he mixes Silk Road desert airs, Russian choral songs, Tuvan throat singing (in multiple forms, which is simply stunning), and mutant Tibetan pop with a gleeful yet respectful disregard for genre purity. This is not trying to thrust music into a pigeonhole but rather is attempting to blend different styles and ideas together and see where it goes, and it succeeds in a remarkable manner. There really is no limit to what is possible, and he combines different genres in a way which makes no sense at all on paper but certainly does sonically, mingling jazz, heavy prog, krautrock, surf, electroacoustic soundscapes, and field recordings together into something which is both strange and welcoming all at the same time. This is not something that can be played in the background, but instead the listener needs to allow themselves to be immersed in the performance. Rea has brought together musicians from different geographies and styles and has put them together in arrangements where everyone has the opportunity to shine. Alongside Tuvan singer Albert Kuvezin (Yat Kha), Russian choral ensemble Juliana & PAVA, bassist Wadim Dicke, trumpeter Greg Kelley, Rea's 1970s Earthstar bandmate Daniel Zongrone, are Seattle luminaries Steve Fisk, Doug Haire, Stuart Dempster, Dick Valentine, Don Berman, Greg Campbell, Brian Oppel, and Greg Powers. If this were not enough, then there is again a companion book, ‘Tuva and Busted’, a joint publication between MoonJune Records and Blue Ear Books which has been made available free of charge. This richly illustrated account relates the improbable tale of how an early interest in Tuvan music eventually led, via two MuzEnergo tours of Russia, to Rea performing in the remote republic, collaborating with distinguished Tuvan musicians, and even acting as a judge in a throat-singing competition. It includes expanded liner notes for ‘Giant Steppes’ that detail each album track’s origin and making. When I was speaking to Dennis last, he told me he feels this is his most fully realized work to date, and this from someone who has been involved in more than 40 recordings. You know what? I think he’s right as this bringing together of different cultures us sumptuous and rewarding.

Progtector: December 2021


Related Links:

Dennis Rea Moonjune Records


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