Hong Kong Dragon Club
The Hong Kong Dragon Club's debut album, "Take Out," is a good case in point. For all its reputation as one of the world's most populated cities, in many ways, Hong Kong is still a small town. This is especially true for members of the town's burgeoning music community.
Most of the studio musicians know each other and work together on a regular basis. Creating everything from advertising jingles and movie sound tracks to orchestral recordings, they spend a lot of time in the studio together. Naturally, this leads to a bit of informal jamming before and after the paid sessions.
This clique of Hong Kong's top professional musicians soon came to be known within the industry as the Hong Kong Dragon Club. When the group came to the attention of Kaisonic Experience Inc. producer K.K. Wong, he decided they would be perfect for his new label, Xien Records.
Xien is Chinese for "progressive" and the Hong Kong Dragon Club certainly fits the bill. Like most Hong Kong based musicians, these players have their roots in the Asian musical tradition of the 1960s and 70s. It was an odd time for the industry as studio musicians began mixing Eastern and Western instruments and tonalities in an effort to produce the vibrant sound tracks needed for "whack attack" movies popularized by such stars as Bruce Lee.
"Take Out" continues that tradition. Club members decided to create modern jazz interpretations of traditional Chinese folk songs. When British-born musician David Packer was tapped to lead the project, his first thought was that Asian instruments were incompatible with jazz scales. However, after a few practice sessions, he soon changed his mind.
Luckily, listeners get to benefit from his conversion.
In addition to arranging and conducting the songs, Packer plays harmonica, keyboards and percussion instruments. Jazz trumpeter Guy Barker also appears on two tracks.
The rest of the club, however, consists of Asian masters on traditional instruments.
Hsin Hsiao-Hung plays erhu, a long-necked, two-string instrument played with a bow. The instrument's haunting, other-worldly tones are showcased on the CD's first track, Beautiful Island.
Cheng Man sits in on the Chinese zither and Li Tak Kong plays yangqin, a percussive string instrument that sounds like a cross between a dulcimer and a harpsichord. Wong Ching rounds out the string section with the pipa, a four-stringed, mandolin-like instrument.
Choo Boon Chong provides lovely melodies on the bamboo flute.
In addition to the British and Chinese instruments, the band also features a Filipino rhythm section consisting of bassists Rudy Balbuena and Nilo Aristorena and drummer Nick Ledesma. Wong says this reflects the musical makeup of the Honk Kong music scene quite well as it was once a tradition to import musicians from Singapore.
The resulting compositions are much more than the sum of their parts. The blending of ancient Chinese folk songs and instruments with modern Western jazz and instrumentation leads to some interesting mental imagery. One moment, a song will offer up images of vast grasslands and the culture of ancient China before shifting subtly to a New Age meditative feel. Later a breeze of smooth, radio-friendly Western jazz will waft through the composition.
Eventually, the distinction among styles is lost altogether as the Hong Kong Dragon Club blends their talents to create a completely new and fresh form of contemporary jazz.
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