ANNIE CHEN OCTET
(2018 - Shanghai Audio & Video - USA)
An exotic and extremely attractive blend of jazz, multi regional eastern, and fusion, from composer, singer, lyricist, producer. and educator, Annie Chen. Born in Beijing, China, trained on classical piano, and later in 2013 moved to New York. She studied with Nancy Marano (Manhattan School of Music), then graduate studies at Queens College, where she studied voice with Charenée Wade, jazz improvisation with Antonio Hart and David Berkman, and composition and arranging with Michael Philip Mossman. While in China, Chen had been a vocalist on the jazz, soul, and funk scenes. Over a 10 year period, she was lead singer in the bands Blues Driver, Big John and Black Hot Pisces, as well as the leader of the Soul Decree Funk Big Band, the only funk large ensemble in China.
The influences of her native land are strong, but so are the contemporary American and European female jazz vocalists. Annie's diction, expressive skills, and ranges from bebop, scat, ballad, and dinner are spot on. The top notch New York backing band is another big strength, which features Polish guitarist Rafal Sarnecki, Japanese violinist Tomoko Omura, Canadian trumpeter David Smith, with American jazz musicians Glenn Zaleski (piano), Alex LoRe (alto saxophone/flute), Mat Muntz (bass) and Jerad Lippi (drums). Rafal Sarnecki does a super job on the arrangements. Glenn Zaleski is outstanding on piano. Every participant os superb, which frames Annie and her voice to perfection. Some songs are sung in English, others in Chinese. Both are beautifully executed.
All of the music on 'Secret Treetop' is lovely and stays full of interesting moments. At times, quick rhythmic accents are placed, just as a soft walk down a sombre path is in progress. A great example is 'Ao Bao Xiang Hui' (track 3), which inserts great solos on trumpet, lead guitar, and piano, all intertwined in an ever changing mood of vocals, drum, and bass interplay. With such a box full of goodies as that, the following title cut ('Secret Treetop') is picturesque. with flute and floating vocals, that soon give way to more exciting hoop jumping jazz exercises and complexities. A wonderful balance of soothing music mixed with unexpected twists and turnabouts, is in abundance throughout the entire recording. And one has to notice how perfect the length of each composition is. No moment is wasted, and Chen never allows the music to go without.
'Secret Treetop' has all the earmarks of a jazz classic, a maturity, a youth, and just the right touches of avant-garde, with an appealing formula of conventional mixed with the unconventional. Those that prefer a serving of their adventurous jazz with enough commercial content to keep your head down to earth, will have plenty to love with this 2nd release (her debut was done in China, 2014 'Pisces the Dreamer', and recently in 2019, was brought in on vinyl in limited edition) by Miss Chen.
©Reviewed by Lee Henderson 3 - 1 - 2019