Shao Rong,
(Pacific Moon, 2000)

Orchid, the debut solo CD by Chinese artist Shao Rong, is one of the most beautiful instrumental CDs I have heard in quite a while. Shao Rong is known in the Far East for her skills playing the pipa, or Chinese lute. This teardrop-shaped, 4-string instrument has been evolving in various forms in both China and Japan for more than 2,000 years. "Although similarly shaped, the Japanese lute is more rhythm-oriented and played with a fan-shaped pick while the Chinese instrument stresses the melody and is plucked with the fingertips which are covered with special nails," according to promotional materials included with the album. To western ears, the pipa might sound like a mandolin or a banjo or something completely different depending upon how it is played.

Shao Rong was born and raised in Shanghai, China. For the past 12 years, she has resided in Japan -- currently, Tokyo. She is backed up on Orchid by an international collection of musicians: Jian Xiao Qing (guzheng, a Chinese zither with 21-strings), Jia Peng Fang (erhu, a 2-string lute played with a bow), Wang Ming Jun (dizi, a small Chinese flute), Yukihiko Mitsuka (shakuhachi, a Japanese bamboo flute), Hitoshi Watanabe (bass), Kiyotsugu Amano (guitar) and Naoyuki Onda (piano). Except for the classically based "Precious Moon," all the tunes on the CD were written by Seiichi Kyoda.

When I listen to Orchid, I am reminded of a band I used to listen to a lot in the late '80s and early '90s -- Hiroshima.

"Wild Rose" starts things off in a tranquil manner and sets the pace for the rest of the CD. The piano and the pipa greatly complement each other. The sound of a drip keeps time on "Bamboo Dance." This is a very interesting tune. The accompanying guitar is noticeable, yet subtle enough not to take center stage from the pipa. "Precious Moon" takes inspiration from various classical Chinese melodies. It starts off slow before picking up speed. The combination of pipa, electric bass and piano easily makes this one of my favorite pieces on Orchid. It is also the longest at 7 minutes, 27 seconds.

The way the piano starts out on "True Love" sounds like this tune should be on a soundtrack. It is a slow piece with lots of emotional qualities to it. "A Day Goes By" begins with a flute before the pipa takes over. This tune sounds so familiar, yet I can't place where I've heard it before (which is unlikely since it is an original composition). "The Land of Woods and Waters" sounds like a classical piece. The pipa starts out solo. I find it a very relaxing, but short number.

"Unicorn" is very new-age sounding. The melody is a little melancholy. I love "Marketplace," a busy, bustling piece which really does evoke the chaotic activity one would find in a market. I found it interesting that Shao Rong enjoys going to markets in foreign lands when she travels. I too hear the music in the background noise of markets and make them a priority stop when I travel to a new place. "One More Tale" is another theme piece. The CD closes with a reprise of "Wild Rose." The difference this time, is that the pipa is accompanied by an acoustic guitar instead of a piano.

If you like Asian music and enjoy relaxing instrumental CDs, then I can highly recommend Orchid by Shao Rong. This CD is great for transporting you away at the end of a stressful work day. I also enjoy listening to it as I watch daylight take over on a weekend morning. The music on this CD has a way of transporting you on a little vacation of tranquility.

"Pacific Moon executives believe mood and ambience are important when listening to music, so they package scented incense sticks inside each CD case." I do not burn incense as often as I used to when I was in college, but I have to say, they have a point. Whether you like perfumed smoke or not, why not give Orchid a listen. You might find it as beautiful as I do.

[ by Wil Owen ]
Rambles: 30 June 2001

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