4 stars on November's Downbeat Magazine
Sharing the honors of being, respectively, the first female and singer and the first bassist to lead a session for Pi, Jen Shyu and Mark Dresser also share a vivid, intimate rapport on this multi-hued duo release. The pair find a wealth of colors and moods within the seemingly limited palette of voice and bass.
Shyu sings in both Mandarin and English but primarily in an invented vocalese. The opening track, “Slope A Dope,” presents an almost conversational example, her sinuous voice soaring upwards in a fluttering lilt buoyed by Dresser’s woody tone.
The veteran bassist plays with a focused reserve throughout the disc’s 11 tracks; with no solos to speak of, the album is concentrated fully on the interaction between the two. They combine to evoke haunting shadows on “Midnight Of Quietness, Recovery Of Life” or sun-dappled landscapes on “Floods, Flames, Blades.” Dresser’s severe bowing creates a razor-wire terrain for the absurdist text of filmmaker Sarah Jane Lapp’s “Mattress On A Stick,” a poem full of bizarrely incongruous images that Shyu twists like taffy.
Beyond Shyu’s recitations of Chinese poets like Li Po and Ge Hong, several pieces draw on Asian influences. Japanese inflections emerge from Dresser’s surging “Mauger Time,” while the bracing title track conjures impressions of Chinese opera with the bassist’s ascetic strikes and scrapes and Shyu’s dramatic leaps.
The vocalist’s control is remarkable, weaving odd serpentines from low, guttural plunges to the crystalline shimmer of “Kind Of Nine.” The crepuscular, wordless opening lope of “Lunation” gives way to Dresser not just walking but occasionally skipping or hopping, an odd gait around which Shyu traces strange contours. —Shaun Brady
JEN SHYU, voice
MARK DRESSER, bass
01. Slope a Dope
02. Quitness of Midnight, Recovery of Life
03. Mauger Time
05. Floods, Flames, Blades
06. Mattress on a Stick
07. Chant for Theresa Hak Kyung Cha
09. Kind of Nine
11 .Night Thoughts