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Taipei, Taipei, Taiwan

Taipei, Taipei, Taiwan
Band World Jazz


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"Paper Eagle CD Review"

Paper Eagle
Sizhukong | Sizhukong Records

By Ian Patterson

Jazz's first century has thrown up few examples of Chinese folk music which has found new voice in this idiom. Buck Clayton, in collaboration with Li Jinhui, spent two years in Shanghai in the mid-1930s, adapting Chinese folk music to ballroom jazz, but nothing was recorded. Jazz's second century should see a change in this situation, and leading the way is Taiwanese group Sizhukong, whose second CD is a stunning advertisement for the possibilities of Chinese folk music merged with jazz. Led by pianist/composer/musical director Yuwen Peng, Sizhukong combines a western-style rhythm section with traditional Chinese instruments and brews a colorful fusion; essentially Chinese sounding, yet indisputably jazz. If jazz is defined as an approach to music then Sizhukong is as jazz as Weather Report or Tito Puente, and elements of these diverse groups can be heard in the original arrangements. Sizhukong is perhaps indirectly helping preserve fading Chinese musical traditions as much as it is looking to cross musical frontiers. “I Remember Formosa,” for example, is inspired by a third century song called “The Mad Drinker” and features Chihping Huang's dizi (flute) gliding and larking like a bird riding the air currents. Peng's lovely piano solo gives way to Chihling Chen's trilling ruan (Chinese mandolin) and Japanese drummer Toshi Fujii's crashing cymbals, providing a brief but dramatic interlude in a beautiful tune. Nature provides inspiration for much of Sizhukong's music, and the evocative lyricism of the arrangements, combined with Peng's elegant touch on the piano, is suggestive of Duke Ellington. Like Ellington, Peng takes inspiration where she finds it, and the title track has a dancing Latin flavor reminiscent of Fania All Stars, with driving bongos and congas and Huang's alegre flute. Chen's ruan and Wu's erhu (two-stringed fiddle) evoke the swing and light-hearted blues of Stephane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt. The exotic “Marketplace” features South African Mogauwane Mahoelo on mbira (thumb piano) and djembe. This enchanting song has a dramatic passage in which flute flies over punchy percussive punctuation. Mahoelo also imports an African soul to “Hakka Mountain Song ,” supplying vocals, talking drum and berimbeu. In his native language, he asks: “Do I surpass myself or surpass others?” Peng's stirring innovations on piano give wings to the song. The dreamlike quality of “Drifting,” and the buoyancy of “Deer Harbour”--two contrasting tunes written or co-written by Belgian bassist Martijn Vanbuel--contain the sadness, hopes and excitement of the early immigrants abandoning home for Taiwan, the former featuring the lovely, harp-like zheng. The percussive interlude on the uplifting “Rainbow Dress Rhapsody” is exhilarating, with cymbals crashing together as in a Chinese New Year dragon dance and a delightful bluegrass flavor provided by Chengzheng Liang's three-stringed sanxian. By contrast, a slow, almost tango-ish noir colors the Herbie Hancock-inspired “Mysterious Voyage.” Like the kite referenced in the title, this is music which soars to great heights, dancing gracefully and joyously. In short, mesmerizing. Track Listing: I Remember Formosa; Paper Eagle; Drifting, part 1; Deer Harbour; Marketplace; Remembering; Hakka Mountain Song; Rainbow Dress Symphony; Mysterious Voyage; Drifting, part 2. Personnel: Yuwen Peng: composition; piano; keyboards; Alex Wu: erhu (Chinese two-stringed fiddle); tuogu (Chinese cymbals and drums); percussion; Toshi Fujii: drums; percussion; electric bass; Chihling Chen: ruan (Chinese lute); liuquin (Chinese mandolin); Chihping Huang: xiao (Chinese recorder); dizi (Chinese flute); Martijn Vanbuel: composition; double bass; Mogauwane Mahoelo: mbira (thumb piano), djembe, shaker (5) ; voice, talking drums, berimbeu (7); Fangyu Weng: zheng (Chinese harp) (3); Chengzheng Liang: sanxian (Chinese shamisen) (8). CD Review Center | Upcoming Release Center
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- All About Jazz.Com

"Sizhukong: A Highlight of 2009 Penang Island Jazz Festival"

The 6th Penang Island Jazz Festival: December 3-6, 2009
One of the most interesting-sounding offers on the festival program was the blending of jazz and Chinese traditional music by Taiwanese band Sizhukong and it did not disappoint. Whether songs composed by Berklee-trained pianist/arranger/leader Yuwen Peng or arrangements of traditional Chinese folk songs, the bringing together of western rhythm section instrumentation with Chinese lead instruments was fascinating to behold. The breezy "Paper Eagle" opened the set and here and on the set closer "Fengyang" a Latin-sounding drive infused the music.
With Japanese drummer Toshi Fujii and Belgian Martijn Vanbuel (pictured left, right side) keeping time and Peng steering the music, there was plenty or room for improvisation from the Chinese instruments. Chihling Chen (on left side) was outstanding on ruan(Chinese lute) and liuqin (Chinese mandolin), embellishing these highly melodic tunes with wonderful technical prowess. Equally impressive were Alex Wu on erhu (Chinese two-stringed fiddle) and Chihping Huang on xiao (Chinese recorder) and a selection of dizi (Chinese flutes.)
This beautiful music is at once familiar and exotic. The spirit of jazz is very much to the fore in the arrangements and in the improvisation and sits in perfect harmony alongside centuries of Chinese tradition. If Weather Report had come from China they might have sounded something like this. Comparison with the great Zawinul/Shorter fusion group were felt in the rousing set closer, "Fengyang," whose melodic head dissolved into an extended mid section jam which featured great solos from Chen on mandolin and Huang on flute.
Sizhukong has yet to perform outside Asia but it is difficult to imagine audiences in London, Paris or Montreal being any less enthralled by this refreshingly original music than audiences in Shanghai, Seoul, and Penang. An undoubted highlight of the Penang Island Jazz Festival, 2009.
- All About Jazz.Com

"Sizhukong CD Review"

In these days of forced fusions and mass-marketed mergers, musical and otherwise, it’s refreshing to discover an unexpectedly successful combination.
Hailing from Taiwan, Sizhukong is the latest project of pianist Yuwen Peng, a Berklee grad who has immersed herself in a strongly transcultural approach to jazz. Sizhukong is a natural outgrowth of these explorations, blending traditional Chinese instruments with jazz’s harmonic and rhythmic innovations. Peng’s playing here is often indebted to the meditative vein of early-1960s Bill Evans, an influence that pervades the opening of “Waterfront”, as she plays a liquid series of pentatonic phrases in slowly ascending arcs. At the same time, though, a percussion instrument beats a rapid tempo that suggests something from the Beijing opera. The piece floats by in a haze of bass harmonics and spare percussion until a slow undulating piano pattern is joined by Yichien Chen’s pipa.
Chen also plays an integral role in the shifting time signatures and minor/pentatonic melodies of “Bleak Bird”, Alex Wu’s rolling percussion adds to the compositions earthy soundworld, though once Peng takes a solo we are in more familiar Western territory, her lines making nods to Chick Corea and Keith Jarrett. Yet the joining-together of these opposite stylistic poles here and elsewhere on the disc is confident and entirely natural in feeling. The vigorously inventive “Bathing in the Stream” has a fresh singing quality, whereas a more static piece such as “Contemplation” is as ascetic as its name. Using no piano at all, it cedes the spotlight to the Chinese instruments, ending the disc on a note of serenity. A bit more harmonic adventure would have been desirable, perhaps, but the richness of the music here suggests that this group’s transcultural explorations have just begun.

Marc Medwin
- Signal to Noise (summer 2009)


Sizhukong (CD & LP), released in March 2007

Paper Eagle (CD), released in September 2009



Sizhukong, an innovative ancient sound from Taiwan, makes traditional Chinese music dance with modern steps. In its rejuvenated music, oriental aura and Chinese-kung-fu-like skills are beautifully blended, and a new kind of Chinese music is born with a soul of jazz.

Led by Toshiko Akiyoshi Composition Award winner Yuwen Peng, Sizhukong was founded in 2005 by a group of innovative jazz and Chinese music virtuosi who come from different backgrounds but share the same passion and belief in music. A pianist born and raised in Taiwan, Yuwen received her jazz training at the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston and returned to Taiwan with a jazz mission. Sizhukong is her latest effort to bring jazz into conversation with the old and new cultures of Taiwan. The group has released two albums: the eponymously titled Sizhukong (2007), which was nominated for two Golden Melody Awards (the most important music awards in Taiwan), and Paper Eagle (2009), which won two Golden Melody Awards (Best Instrumental Album and Best Instrumental Album Producer). Both albums caught the attention of music lovers and critics alike.
The name Sizhukong comes from the joining of three Chinese characters, and the meaning is multi-layered. Si means silk, from which strings were originally made, and may represent the flow of the music. Zhu means bamboo and may represent the roots nature of the traditional instruments. Sizhu means musical instrument. Kong means emptiness or the state of enlightenment that comes through meditation. Sizhukong means the pressure point at the end of the eyebrow which may signify the flow of energy that brings the body into physical and emotional harmony.

Sizhukong has been invited to perform at numerous international festivals and events including:
2010 Vilnius Jazz Festival, Lithuania
2010 Central America Concert Tour, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Dominican Republic
2009 Penang Island Jazz Festival, Malaysia
2009 Jazz Music Festival in Shanghai, China
2008 Java Jazz Festival in Jakarta, Indonesia
2008 Jarasum Jazz Festival, Korea
2008 National Theater Summer Jazz Festival, Taiwan
2008 The ANMC21 Cultural Events ¡V ¡¥Enchanting Asia¡¦ in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
2008 The 1st Cross-strait Cultural Industries Fair in Xiamen, China
2008 Hong Kong Jazz Up Concert , Hong Kong
2007 Zhu Jia Jiao Water Village World Music Festival in Shanghai, China
2005 & 2007 Taichung Jazz Festival, Taiwan,
2005 & 2006 Taipei Film Festival Opening Concerts, Taiwan
2005 Taipei Arts Festival, Taiwan