The "Beauty and the Beast" 12” was the first collaboration between Chinese Guzeng virtuoso Bei Bei and producer/multi-instrumentalist Shawn Lee. It only hinted at the imagination of Into the Wind, their full-length debut. The guzeng is a revered, ancient, traditional instrument belonging to the Asian long zither family. Bei Bei studied in China but now lives in California. She and Lee met only once but made the album by sending files back and forth between California and London. The end result perfectly marries Lee’s blunted hip-hop and slippery funk beats to the timeless, soaring lyricism of Bei Bei's instrument. The sound feels like the place where kung fu and blaxploitation soundtracks, soulful spiritual jazz, and of course, Chinese folk music, overlap but keep their respective identities while being transformed into something else. Check the boss spaces and textural dynamics at work in the title track. Lee paints Bei Bei's seductive, exotic Eastern melody with a tough, percussive groove, a full horn section, and a punchy bassline. It sounds something like funky '70s movie music married to modern big-band arrangements led by Alice Coltrane’s modal harp. “Bei’s Bossa” lives up to its name with a shimmering guzeng line backed by swaying electric guitars, muted drums, and a fluid bassline. “East” begins inside a wind tunnel of effects and plucked guzeng chords, accented by a Farfisa. It weds Arab and Chinese folk sounds to trippy textures before it breaks into a full-on groove-drenched swagger with a swtichblade guzeng solo, hopped-up bass, skittering snares, and horns and winds popping on queue.(Think Johnny Pate or Quincy Jones in the early '70s.) Georgia Ann Muldrow adds fractured, future-perfect soul vocals to the restrained groove on “Make Me Stronger,” and a jazz-noir spirit to “Willingness.” “The Ambush” reflects the influences of both Richard Evans and Dorothy Ashby, and carries a tense yet breezy groove of drama and celebration. Into the Wind evokes many sounds and musics, but is ultimately its own sexy animal. Just say yes.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek