In a gesture of thinly veiled reminiscence for Thailand's days of yore and unabashed genuflection before globalization's omnipresence, the Fong Naam ensemble presents Jakajan: Music From New Siam. Using both Thai and Western musical sensibilities to construct its compositions, Fong Naam strives to integrate disparate elements into a cohesive whole. The opening track, "Chao Praya Concerto," plays with the Buddhists' cyclical view of time and the Christians' linear concept of the same. The idea of a temporal/spiritual clash is intriguing, although the unwavering tonality of the Western instruments -- piano, harp, and viola -- doesn't allow much room for the non-Western instruments in the ensemble. Tonally speaking, it's a mercurial piece that contrasts well with the gentler tones of the next track, "Cambodian Night Music." Attempting to take center stage in "Cambodian Night Music" is the single-stringed phin naam tao. A plucked folk instrument from the peoples who live around the Thai-Cambodian border, the phin naam tao has a half-gourd resonator that the player places on his chest. The player manipulates the timbre of the instrument by moving the gourd toward and away from his body. In this piece a viola accompanies the delicately sounding instrument. The result, unfortunately, is basically a viola solo with a few plucks of the phin naam tao here and there. The remainder of the CD includes a tune that makes great use of the renat xylophone and a fascinating work that integrates a Pi Phat ensemble, folk instruments from the now extinct Ngaw people of southern Thailand, and Star Trek-like effects from a keyboard sampler. Overall, Jakajan: Music From New Siam is an ambitious work, one that attempts to sift together traditions from far and wide. Though the fixed tonality of the Western instruments often overrides what are the less familiar Thai instruments, this CD does prove to be an interesting postmodern paean.
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AllMusic Review by John Vallier