Goldmine by Mike Greenblatt

World-Jazz at its finest comes in the form of Dongfeng Liu’s amazing China Caribe (Zoho), perhaps the greatest melding of cultures and genres since Dizzy Gillespie fused bebop with salsa in the 1940s. There was a time in the 1800s when Chinese immigrants stormed the shores of Cuba to make up the largest Asian community in the Western Hemisphere. Welcome, then, to the exotic, surprising, enticing and totally gorgeous terrain of China Caribe.
Dongfeng Liu—pianist, composer, arranger, educator—has taken rhythms from the Caribbean, American jazz and Far East folk songs, as played by his alternately frenetic/tranquil piano backed by electric bass and acoustic bass, percolating percussion, drums, horsehead fiddle and the kind of Mongolian throat singing wherein two simultaneous notes can be sung, boiled it all in a big pot, to serve it up spicy hot. It is unique, celebratory, orgasmically wild and, in the case of such instruments as the pipa (an ancient lute) and the ruan (a four-stringed Chinese ax) like nothing you’ve ever heard before.
Time signatures change rapidly (oftentimes two or three such changes within the same track). The world-class musicians have to contend with dizzying interlocking and uneven rhythmic thrusts. Take “Arcadia,” for instance. It’s classic fusion, heavy on the synthesizer, mysterious, otherworldly, achieving a zen perspective that will have you searching for your own mantra. Then there’s “Coltrane’s Tune,” a tribute which somehow some way incorporates John Coltrane’s “Countdown” with Miles Davis’ “Tune Up.” “Fisherman’s Song At Dusk” is eerily Chinese, its haunting melody played on an erhu (another traditional Asian bowed string ax). It all ends with “Moophy,” the highlight. Liu abandons piano on this one in favor of something called a Moog Sub Phatty. Its complex 7/4 time morphs into 5/4 when you’re not looking.
As eloquently stated in the illuminating liner notes, there are 56 different ethnic groups in China, all with their own language variations and cultures. In assimilating the Far East and the Caribbean, Liu has made an album for everyone. It’s certainly a 2018 Top 10 contender.

Original review