• All About Jazz Review on SPIN Album

    Sizhukong: Spin
    By IAN PATTERSON, Published: August 30, 2012

    Sony Music

    Taiwanese band Sizhukong has come a long way in five years since its debut recording, Sizhukong (Sizhukong Music, 2007). Blending jazz idioms with traditional Taiwanese/Chinese folk music, that record announced the arrival of a unique Asian ensemble, whose exciting, highly lyrical playing sounded not just newly minted, but newly conceived. Pianist/leader Yuwen Peng had recently graduated from Berklee and wove her flowing jazz lines throughout the exotic mix. And, in a captivating collaboration with South African mbira/djembe player and singer Mogauwane Mahloelo, Peng showed that the band was open to all music.

    Paper Eagle (Sizhukong Music, 2009) didn't radically alter the blueprint but it did take things up a notch, with the band further exploring the crossroads between Taiwanese/Chinese and African music, and adding certain Latin flavors to the brew. The addition of Dutch double bassist/composer Martijn Vanbuel—with original electric bassist Toshi Fujii switching to drums/percussion—brought slightly greater jazz sensibility to the music. Peng's soloing was less prominent, playing more the role of conductor and imbuing the music with Duke Ellingtonian grace. Greater use of Chinese percussion added punch and Oriental spice to the arrangements, but otherwise the band's second CD was an outstanding continuation and refinement of what had come before.

    With Spin, Sizhukong again draws from traditional Taiwanese/Chinese folk traditions and jazz. Peng's compositions, as ever, are informed by nature, folk tales/poetry and history's contours. However, the band steps outside its comfort zone in a several important ways. Electronic keyboards and electric guitar debut and are to the fore, bringing a jazz-fusion/jazz-rock hue to several compositions and there's perhaps more jazz-inspired improvisation than on the band's previous albums. Vanbuel's acoustic bass has been replaced by Fujii's electric bass, and the drum kit (on which Fujii doubles) is a more dynamic presence than before. Sizhukong may have begun as a fusion of musical traditions, but on Spin it's also increasingly about a fusion of contrasting textural elements.