Hong Kong Dragon Club,
Take Out
(Kaisonic Experience/Xien Records, 2000)

Recording sessions in Hong Kong tended to involve a standard group of studio musicians, who frequently jammed and experimented with different styles of music. With a foray into jazz, Hong Kong Dragon Club was born. Producer K.K. Wong set out to capture the unique combination of Chinese folk melodies played on traditional instruments with modern instruments infusing the rhythm and flow of jazz. The result is Take Out, a 10-track CD, at its best when the traditional tunes soar beyond the anticipated contemporary jazz format.

The Dragon Club players bringing strange and delightful new sounds to this recording include Hsin Hsiao-Hung on erhu (a long-necked, two-stringed instrument played with a bow), Cheng Man on guzheng (a Chinese zither), Wong Ching on pipa (a plucked four-string instrument similar to a mandolin), Li Tak Kong on yangqin (a dulcimer type instrument played with tiny bamboo mallets) and Choo Boon Chong on di (a bamboo flute).

They're joined by Guy Barker on trumpet, Nick Ledesma on drums, Rudy Balbuena and Nilo Aristorena on bass. David Packer, who arranged and conducted the tunes, also plays harmonica, keyboards and percussion.

The opening track, "Beautiful Island," features strings that seem to sing a melody, adding a unique flavor to the bass heavy jazz. The faster-paced "Green is the Mountain" aims to create the image of a beautiful mountain in Taiwan while retaining a smooth radio-ready jazz sound. In these first two tracks, the old and new blend so effortlessly, I was wondering why they had bothered to feature folk tunes and unusual instruments. Not to worry.

In "A Place Far Away," Packer's fresh harmonica and Barker's dazzling trumpeting evoke images of early jazz stylings, and then step aside for the pipa and the erhu (I think). "Watering Flowers" and "Azalea" provide Choo Boon Chong a chance to explore the possibilities of a five-hole bamboo di.

"Three Gorges of Yang Guan" is my favorite track, with a sultry melody that warbles from the bow and muted trumpet. Another highlight, "Needle Work," features several of the traditional stringed instruments in intricate solos. The final piece, "Tale of the Great Wall," highlights strong bass rhythm with catchy pipa plucking before shifting toward features on the other strings.

Overall, Take Out is an intriguing first venture for the talented musicians of Hong Kong Dragon Club. The unusual but beautifully harmonic sounds of the traditional Chinese instruments work well in the jazz format. I would love to see them played. My only complaint is that the sparse liner notes provide only the names, not the brief descriptions of each instrument, and most listeners won't have access to explanations in the promotional materials.

Jazz lovers with a penchant for something a bit different should check out the new sounds from the East. Hong Kong Dragon Club's Take Out is a fine place to start.

[ by Julie Bowerman ]

Buy Take Out from Amazon.com.