Wu Li
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Wu Li, by Wu Li
January 22, 2009 AT 5:19 PM
By Becky Firesheets
Rating 9/11

With a trumpet and saxophone as the lead instruments, Wu Li may be snap labeled as jazz or ska. But describing this Brooklyn-based group as jazz, ska or even funk is totally insufficient. They are all of these things, along with straight-up rock, electronica, Latin and R&B. In other words, Wu Li is unclassifiable, but not because their music is so out there it’s hard to understand. On the contrary, their music retains an impressive balance of being “out there” while remaining accessible, experimental with multiple genres yet deeply rooted in tradition. Interchanging more structured passages with improvisation, Wu Li’s musicians demonstrate absolute mastery of their instruments and of playing as a tight-knit group. Drummer Ziv Ravitz is possibly the best drummer in New York (which is saying a lot, I know), with his very detailed and involved fills and ability to play ultra fast passages all the way to slow, groovin’ lines with the same gusto and skill. But the other members don’t just ride on having a stellar drummer; they too push themselves to the max. And for these musicians, their maximum is above and beyond the average. Wu Li is in a completely different category, another caliber, of good music.

Throughout their self-entitled album, released in 2008, saxophonist Maxfield Gast maintains a clear, strong tone, dancing up and down the ranges of his horn and nailing high notes with such ease and beauty it’s hard to imagine a squeak ever coming from such an instrument. Trumpeter Mike Shobe tends to lead the choruses in his crisp and controlled tone, but still knows how to let loose and go crazy during solos. In addition to mastering jazz, Wu Li also knows how to groove out, as song “Rua Getulina” demonstrates. Bassist Benjamin Wright leads the song through its funk-laden vibe before handing it off to drummer Ravitz for a complicated solo that, unlike many percussionists who tend to play more self-indulgently, is fun and engaging. Throughout the record, Wu Li tastefully combines various time signatures, syncopated rhythms and funky bass lines, running straight on through any boundaries previously set, making up their own rules and genres as they go. Without being restricted by rock standards or jazz ideals, these guys bust out their music with vigor, playing heavy power chords reminiscent of ‘70s doom rock then switching to a ska feel with a breezy, trumpet solo, all in the same song. Wu Li’s members prove that following their own, original ideas is much more appealing and exciting than any pop band currently on the market.

The highlight of this album is song “Sauced,” a tune that kicks everything up a level. Guitarist Adam Strum plays with underwater-like effects while the fast-paced percussion and echoey, overlapping sounds support a more relaxed trumpet line. Then all the sound all fall together into a sweet, R&B breakdown while still maintaining the experimental side before building back up to the supernatural feel the song begins with. The word “cool” is incredibly overused, but this song is the highest level of cool.

Wu Li is not a typical, mainstream band by any means and may run into criticism because of their unusualness. However, I bet these guys would get bored playing anything less than the greatness they currently play. Their unique instrumentation, over the top talent, and insane ability to combine genres and sounds can only equal success. Check out their next show on Feburary 13th at The Tea Lounge in Brooklyn, and let these guys open your mind.
- Knocks From The Underground


Discography

Wu Li (2008) - Debut full length recording
Wu Li Live in New York (2006)
Solstice Strike EP (2005)

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Bio

Wu Li, a Chinese word associated with quantum physics, means “patterns of organic energy.” Wu Li, as a band, attempts to capture the concepts referred to in their name through their music. As five seasoned musicians, they deliver both the reliability of the fixed and the movement of the unknown. Their distinctive instrumental music encompasses many styles without giving into cliché. It offers a blend of catchy melodies and danceable beats; the sound is genuine, however, and their flare for the unexpected—as musicians and as a band—offers something wholly innovative and unique to the Brooklyn music scene that seems to be bursting at its strings.

The rhythm section—Adam Strum on guitar, Benjamin Wright on bass, and Ziv Ravitz on drums—sets the space for trumpeter Mike Shobe and saxophonist Maxfiled Gast to provide the signature horn-laced Wu Li sound, then pull back to play behind trio. The effortless flow between instrumental voices makes everyone and no one a soloist. Such cohesion pays off and Wu Li is quick to defend their bond: music is more than notes - it is brotherhood.

Wu Li’s live show feels a bit like a controlled experiment. Much like the phenomenon of their namesake and the tradition of improvisation itself, you can’t plan for the experience; it’s more of a lightning storm. Their self-titled debut album, more accurate and contained, lets the lightning seep out a bit. Wu Li delivers a clean, honest sound you can get intimate with; it provides the backdrop for a world clamoring to understand itself. It inspires. It uplifts. It makes you move. It makes you think. For those so inclined Wu Li offers lightning itself. Catch it if you can.

"Wu Li’s musicians demonstrate absolute mastery of their instruments and of playing as a tight-knit group...Their maximum is above and beyond the average. Wu Li is in a completely different category, another caliber, of good music."
- Knocks from the Underground.com