Ostensibly a showcase for Zi Lan Liao, who plays ku-cheng and Chinese harp, The Five Tone Dragon is, as might be expected, as much a showcase for Jah Wobble's world music preoccupations. Handfuls of musical ideas are taken up and strewn across expansive landscapes; the title track is a mere 15-and-a-half-minutes in length, while "The River" clocks in at more than 30. A bewildering variety of instruments come into play throughout, from the ku-cheng and harp to Wobble's bass, Jean Pierre Rasle's bagpipes and crumhorn, the usual wind battery from Clive Bell, and so on. A rapid marching drum rhythm drives much of "The Five Tone Dragon," while "The River" serves up tradition with a side order of pyrotechnic percussion work, programmed drums, ambient thinking, trumpet solos, and more. While these two pieces are certainly lengthy, and sometimes mildly confusing, they are certainly never boring. It should also be noted that Wobble turns in some of his tightest, cleanest bass playing on record for this set, providing a wonderful anchor for everything else that's going on. The Five Tone Dragon somehow managed to fall between the cracks despite being on Wobble's own label, and it's a true shame. This is worthy of much greater attention.
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AllMusic Review by Steven McDonald