Friday, August 26, 2011

Jen Shyu and Mark Dresser - Synastry (Pi Recordings, 2011)

Vocalist Jen Shyu and bassist Mark Dresser are uniquely qualified to perform in a duet setting together. After Shyu began studying with saxophonist and musical theorist Steve Coleman, she was soon invited to join his band, adding a fascinating new dimension to his recent albums. Mark Dresser has had a very successful career in all aspects of jazz and improvisatory music, performing with a wide range of luminaries and recording many albums under his own name, but really seems to thrive in an environment where imagination and commitment to exploring the sound spectrum are key. That is certainly required on this demanding and thought provoking album. Shyu uses wordless vocalization, speech and other techniques as master saxophonist or reed player might use their instrument. In fact, she sounds less like a “singer,” but more like a musician whose instrument just happens to be the human voice. Dresser is much more than a typical bassist, using bowing and plucking techniques, he is able to to engage with the vocalizing in a true partnership. Both musicians bring compositions to the performance, but the real focus of the music is the blending of their particular voices, weaving and blending the hues and colors of sound and occasionally dancing around each other in a hypnotic and unique arrangement that is uniquely improvisatory but calling forth other music from around the world and across time. While this album can be quite a challenging listen, the two musicians represented here are truly trying to break new ground, and ask people to re-think the nature of jazz and improvised music in general. Synastry -

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