Fri, Sep 09, 2005 - Page 13 News List

Spicing up tradition with jazz

Members fo the popular local combo Metamorphosis will be playing a different tune this weekend when the group merges contemporary standards with traditional Chinese melodies

By Gavin Phipps  /  STAFF REPORTER

Holding a sheet of paper is composer Lai Hsiao-li.

PHOTO: CHEN TSE-MING, TAIPEI TIMES

Now the curtain has come down on the Taipei 2005 Summer Jazz Festival and organizers are still busy finalizing the line up for this year's Taichung Fall Jazz Festival, fans of the musical genre looking for something a little bit different should consider checking out the new crossover creations of popular local jazz ensemble Metamorphosis at Taipei's Red House Theater this weekend.

Founded in 1997, Metamorphosis has done more than most to promote jazz in a nation more in tune with Mando-pop and Western rock. In the late 1990s it became the in-house band for Taipei's oldest and most respected jazz venue, The Blue Note, and was one of the first local jazz acts to incorporate its own original works into its sets.

The largely improvisational pieces proved hugely popular with the local jazz crowd. In 2001 the combo released the first-ever locally produced jazz album to feature original works by a Taiwanese jazz band. Metamorphosis Live (變形蟲爵士樂團現場實況錄音) didn't make it into the local music charts, nor did it receive much airplay from local radio stations. It did, however, make enough of a splash in the then diminutive jazz circles to create a buzz.

"The popularity of jazz five years ago was incredibly small. The record company published the album, but promotion was really left up to us," said Metamorphosis founding member Peng Yu-wen (彭郁雯). "I'll admit that sales weren't too good. In fact they were pretty awful, but the album did prove that a local jazz act could create and record its own works."

Since the band's early days' jazz has taken hold in Taiwan. And although it's still a genre enjoyed by a minority, the combo's home-grown brand of jazz has proven hugely successful. Metamorphosis is now a regular not only at the Blue Note but it also performs several times a month at Taipei's Witch House and the Riverside Music Cafe.

Members of the popular local jazz combo will be moving far away from their jazzy roots this weekend, however, and will hopefully be creating a whole new buzz with a set of original jazz based vibes.

Metamorphosis has, for a limited period, joined forces with several classical Chinese musicians and morphed itself into a hybrid ensemble that combines contemporary jazz standards with traditional oriental sounds. The auxiliary combo consists of three traditional jazz musicians and five classical Chinese instrumentalists and was the brainchild of Peng and composer Lai Hsiao-li (賴曉俐).

The integration of traditional Chinese music into various genres of music is not uncommon, but its amalgamation with jazz standards is something that, according to Peng, has never been attempted in Taiwan before.

"Traditional Chinese music has been incorporated into rock and pop. And of course it's widely used in world music, but as far as I know nobody in Taiwan has [fused] it with jazz," said Peng. "It is a difficult thing to do, as the musical vocabulary between jazz and classical Chinese music is very different."

Although Peng had some prior experience of writing scores for classical Chinese instruments, her knowledge was limited. In order to better understand classical Chinese music and how best to incorporate it into contemporary jazz, both Peng and Lai went back to school for a couple of months.

Along with spending long hours listening to recordings of various forms of traditional Chinese music both took lessons in nanguan opera and learnt all they could about the classical instruments. And, while the southern Chinese style of opera, which originated during the Han Dynasty (206BC to 220AD) is a far cry from jazz, Peng and Lai learned enough about its musical nuances to create a whole new style of crossover music.

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