Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Annie Chen Octet – Secret Treetop (2018)

Annie Chen Octet

Annie Chen - vocals
Rafał Sarnecki - guitar
Tomoko Omura - violin
David Smith - trumpet, flugelhorn
Alex LoRe - alto saxophone, flute
Glenn Zaleski - piano
Mathew Muntz - bass
Jerad Lippi - drums

Secret Treetop

PRIVATE EDITION 9787799319759

By Adam Baruch

This is the second album by Chinese (resident in US) Jazz vocalist/songwriter Annie Chen recorded with her octet, which includes Polish (resident in US) guitarist Rafał Sarnecki, who was in charge of the arrangements, except in one case. The album presents nine tracks, seven of which are original compositions by Chen featuring her lyrics (in English), except for one tune which features wordless vocalese, and two are arrangements of folk songs with lyrics in Chinese.

The music is quite complex, richly orchestrated and excellently performed by the octet. Surprisingly it shows relatively little influence of Far Eastern motifs, even in the folklore based tunes, and the Chinese vocals are the only real connection with Chen's roots.

Chen offers an original approach to vocals, mixing effectively lyrics and vocalese, and as a result turns her voice into one of the instruments of the octet. Her approach to vocals, and in fact the entire aesthetics of the album are unexpectedly non-American, much closer to what one might expect from European Jazz, which is probably due mostly to Sarnecki's approach to the arrangements and Chen's open-mindedness.

Overall this is an excellent album, full of unusual, highly intelligent music, superb vocals and instrumental performances by all the members of the octet, and most importantly a breath of fresh air in the dull mainstream vocal Jazz produced usually in the US. This gem is definitely worth investigating!

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