Picks and Pans Review: Phases of the Moon: Traditional Chinese Music
Where they came from, of course, “exotic” things aren’t exotic. That’s something you are constantly reminded of listening to these valuable recordings. It’s not just the intellectual realization that, say, Purple Bamboo Melody is every bit as comforting and commonplace in Shanghai as Gershwin, John Philip Sousa or Barry Manilow is here. It’s that the more you listen, the less the cultural gap matters. Phases of the Moon is the result of contacts begun in 1979 between CBS Records and the China Record Company. The 11 selections are mainly recordings on traditional Chinese instruments such as the pipa (a forefather of the lute) and the sheng, an ancient bamboo version of the harmonica. Culled from the CRC’s massive archives, the songs reflect China’s geographic immensity and ethnic diversity. Tashwayi, for instance, from the Uighurs of western China, recalls the string-and-percussion interplay of Indian music. The album ranges from limpid pastoralism (The Moon Mirrored in the Poof) to mad, shrilling, ceremonious dance music full of weighty orchestral crescendos and trills that go off like firecrackers. Lyrical and approachable, the Chinese compositions always manage to convey simple emphatic statements. In spirit—even, at times, in melody and rhythm—they often bring to mind nothing so much as a good old-fashioned American country hoedown.