We are very familiar with the slew of prodigiously gifted Chinese pianists (and other instrumentalists) who have become renowned all over the world for their interpretation of classical music. However, the pianist Dongfeng Liu is a rarity not only for his extraordinary pianism but for following the pursuit of the music of Jazz and Latin-Jazz. But the questing, peripatetic culture of the Chinese does go back to the great traveller Hsüan-tsang (c. 602–664 AD) and probably earlier. Put that together with Marco Polo (1254–1324), who brought China and Europe even closer and the voyages of Columbus and suddenly the Caribbean and all of its African influences is no longer that far off, certainly not for someone as musically and historically savvy as Dongfeng Liu.
The fact that Jazz was heard and even briefly flourished in China as early as in the 1920’s with the highly inspirational music of Li Jinhui (1891–1967), often dubbed as the “Father of Chinese popular music”, creating a new musical form with shidaiqu after the fall of the Qing Dynasty should might come as quite a surprise. After all Mao Zedong and (later) Jiang Qing together with the Great Leap Forward and the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution Leap Forward may have stamped out Jazz branded as “Yellow Music”, a form of pornography, because of its sexual associations and he was branded a “corruptor” of public morals, and even hounded Li to his death, a victim of political persecution in 1967.
However, the China of today is a different kind of behemoth and it is hardly surprising to find voices (inside and outside that country) who favour the African-American idiom and who flavor their music with Jazz and Latin Jazz. Moreover, there is a substantial Sino-Caribbean population in and around Cuba. But Dongfeng Liu is a rare and gleaming gem. He certainly is a pianist as masterful a virtuoso on the instrument as he is playing in the style of Jazz and Latin Jazz. Best of all he is a sublime creator of a musical style that is forged in the fire of all of the metaphors – Chinese, Jazz and Latin Jazz – and China Caribe is an outstanding example of what happens when Dongfeng Liu and his phenomenal gifts as a composer and pianist collide with music.
The disc unveils his music consequently heralding the start of an impending and glittering music career. It also showcases the inventive composer in the fine company of the brilliant ruan and pipa player Min Xiaofen, the erhu virtuoso Feifei Yang and – best of all – the Hanggai Band who bring their mastery of Tuvan throat singing, or Hooliin Chor (in Mongolian, “throat harmony”) on the spectacular work “In the Clouds”. Indeed these extraordinarily-scored works bridge the stylistic gap between Chinese and Latin Jazz music melding each of the forms with Caribbean grace and architecture and Chinese fireworks. Dongfeng Liu’s rhythmic writing is also effortlessly idiomatic; songful melodies and languid reflections give way to rippling, sinuous, percussive grooves and spirited dances. In all of this Dongfeng Liu leads this powerful group with terrific flair and abandon.
The pianist’s rigorous technique makes light weight of the complex rhythms and harmonies and Dongfeng Liu’s virtuosic performance, with its quick-fire flourishes, intricate high-wire figurations and tricky passages is breathtakingly matched by bassist John Benitez, percussionist Roberto Quintero and drummer Francis Benitez. There are many moments of eloquent dialogue between pianist and the other members of the group, the finest coming during the hectic exchanges between pianist and the percussionists. The ensemble is taut and the generous acoustic adds warmth to this performance made more memorable by such works as “Colorful Clouds Chasing the Moon” and “Arcadia”.