Chien Chien Lu
Built In System (Live from New York)
Giant Steps Art
Vibraphonist Chien Chien Lu leads her top shelf quartet of trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, bassist Richie Goods, and drummer Alan Mednard in this vibrant live recording, Built In System (Live from New York) from Hunter College in January of 2023. Lu composed all eight originals. The Taiwanese-born Lu studied classical percussion before studying the vibraphone at the prestigious University of the Arts in Philadelphia, graduating with a Master of Music in Jazz Studies. In 2017 she met faculty member Jeremy Pelt, one of today’s leading trumpet voices, at the Banff Jazz Residency in Canada. Lu has subsequently played on three of his albums and he reciprocates the favor here. In fact, this is a tight knit group who often play together as all three were also featured on Lu’s debut 2020 recording The Path and she and Goods issued a duo album, Connected in 2022, which we covered here this past January.
Lu composed all eight of these tracks and debuted them for the first time in this concert. Thematically they relate to three central themes – fate (certain aspects of life are predetermined in terms of where we live and who we meet), relocation (meeting new people and being exposed to different ideas), and thirdly cultural inheritance. She refers to this as her ‘built-in system.” Lu as the bandleader though, often functions mostly as a rhythm player, assuming the role of a guitarist or pianist except on the two trio renderings where she is obviously the lead voice.
This is a straight-ahead album that will inevitably evoke those of Bobby Hutcherson or even the Modern Jazz Quartet. The intricate opener “Boulanger’s Variation” has she and Pelt share solos above a gentle, infectious groove set by Mednard and Goods. In his second entrance, following one of Lu’s more extensive solos, Pelt locks in, blowing fervent liquid clusters and daring octave leaps as opposed to the warmer tones in his first appearance. Any time Pelt is present, a fiery inspired performance is guaranteed. There’s a folkloric tinge to “Hsiu Chin” featuring outstanding pizzicato from Goods, and more stellar turns from the leader and Pelt who alternates lyrical passages with his signature heated staccato bursts. “Träumerei” brings the quartet into dreamy, balladic realms with Lu’s vibraphone sending gorgeous resonating tones that just seem to gently cuddle Pelt’s sustained notes like feathery pillows. “Chun Yi” goes a bit further out on the edge, sending us into a mysterious place where Pelt unleashes a gorgeous melody, and the rhythm tandem curiously underpins it with a Latin tinged rhythm. Pelt and Goods step aside for a fascinating exchange between Lu and Mednard.
“Special Things” returns us to more conventional, or should we say, retro fare as it could be easily associated with early eighties recordings of Hutcherson with Freddie Hubbard of Woody Shaw. The brief “Percussion Song (The Wheel of Fate)” is one of two trio pieces, another glimpse into the strong chemistry developed between the players as Goods and Mednard interact with Lu in a call-and-response way to the shifting textures. Pelt rejoins for the animated “Just Listen” while the trio closes with gorgeous, romantic “Full Moonlight.”
Eminently accessible and brimming with colorful passages, Lu’s quartet delivers a strong outing with Built In System (Live from New York) Built In System (Live from New York).
More on the Giant Steps new series Modern Masters and New Horizons
This series is curated by trumpeter Jason Palmer and drummer Nasheet Waits. This is the second entry in the series focusing on artists who have shaped the modern jazz we hear today, including many emerging voices. Artists slated to contribute are Waits, saxophonists Ben Solomon, Neta Raanan and Michael Thomas, drummer Eric McPherson, bassist Edward Perex and trio Tarbaby with Orrin Evans, Eric Revis and Waits. We will be on the lookout for those releases.
- Jim Hynes
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