Min Xiao-Fen

Spring, River, Flower, Moon, Night

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Min Xiao-Fen plays the pipa, a four-stringed Chinese lute held in a vertical position. Since her move to the United States in 1992, she has divided her performing time between the traditional repertoire and improvised sessions with avant-garde composers and musicians such as Carl Stone, Derek Bailey, and George Lewis. As a free improviser, she's sometimes lacking, but her playing is wonderful in contexts like those explored on this solo album. She moves from extreme delicacy to explosive ferocity in an instant, always respecting the song being played, never indulging in vapid displays of virtuosity. She manages to mix a purity and clarity of attack in the foreground with a bending and blurring of background textures, achieving a fascinating complexity. Many of the pieces have narrative elements at their core and Min's playing enhances their compelling, story-like structure, maintaining a sense of drive and suspense to hold the listener's attention even as one marvels at her technical ability. Western listeners will find that the music adheres to certain preconceived conventions (i.e., it sounds "Chinese"). But they will also find expansive new worlds opened to them and this disc might well entice further explorations of the genre. Recommended.

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