The Taoist temples of Shanghai have a long history of being closed, destroyed, and rebuilt. After closing during the Cultural Revolution, the City God Temple reopened in the 1970s (and in its current form in 1994) and promptly produced one of the first albums of Taoist music -- Welcoming Guests from Wonderland. With a new generation of younger Taoists now assuming leadership of the temple and new training from the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, the City God Temple has remade the original Welcoming Guests from Wonderland, now available to listeners under the title Chinese Taoist Music. The CD has tones of the classic silk-and-bamboo sound that many expect from Chinese music, but it's somewhat more complex than that. The recording presents a mix of classic Taoist formats with the local Shanghai sound (of the Song dynasty, that is) -- the "Jiang-Nan" sound. Similar to Confucian music, much of the Taoist element is concerned with the representation of various instruments and ritual (read: repetitive) purposes. The pieces can loop for some time before climaxing and ending. Others have a more delicate nature, weaving their way through a series of counterpoint maneuvers before quietly diminishing into oblivion. The album is musically complex; the performances are all top-notch. However, the true interest here lies in the album's historical context -- a mixing of heavy ritual with local folk music, a rebirth of joy and a return to cultural significance following the dark times of the Cultural Revolution.
Chinese Taoist Music Review
by Adam Greenberg