Derek Bailey

Viper

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Min Xiao-Fen is a master player of the pipa, a four-stringed Chinese lute. In addition to recordings of traditional material (for example, the stunning Spring, River, Flower, Moon, Night, a solo recital issued on Asphodel), during the 1990s Min increasingly played with improvising musicians, including Wadada Leo Smith, George Lewis, and John Zorn. Here, she teams with the reigning master of improvised guitar, Derek Bailey, and the results, while intriguing, fail to live up to expectations. There are a couple of problems facing anyone intrepid enough to go one on one with Bailey: first, a tendency toward "me-too-ism," of merely echoing his sounds; and second, being overly deferential, content to follow Bailey's lead and not provoke him with one's own ideas. It's a bit like finding oneself in conversation with a gifted thinker and simply replying "yeah" and "uh-huh," or paraphrasing previously stated arguments. While not quite so drastic, these appear to be symptomatic of the problems on this recording. Instead of relying on her beautiful, traditional strengths, Min tries to apply Bailey-esque extended techniques to the pipa and lets him chart the course rather than exerting control herself. For his part, Bailey appears to go to great lengths in accommodating her, eliciting pipa-like sounds from his guitar as if urging her to take them and run, but only a small amount of gripping music emerges. There is certainly a good deal of delicacy in the playing, and both musicians are clearly listening to one another, but the line between delicacy and timidity is crossed a bit too often. Had Min been more resolute in creating independent structures that might have forced Bailey, consequently, to explore other more rewarding areas (as has occurred, for example, in his duets with percussionist Susie Ibarra), the music might have fulfilled its great potential. As is, the result is not unrewarding in some aspects, but is ultimately a frustrating affair.

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