Take the beauty and grace of traditional Chinese melodies, put them to jazz grooves, and you have the music of Sizhukong (絲竹空). The group, whose name reads “silk, bamboo and emptiness,” is a six-piece jazz ensemble formed by pianist and composer Peng Yu-wen (彭郁雯) who aims to create “a new kind of Chinese music” with “a soul of jazz.”
Sizhukong will present new material in a run of shows this month, starting tomorrow night at Witch House and on Sunday at Da-an Forest Park (大安森林公園) in Taipei.
The performances are billed as Samba Paradise, and audiences can expect to hear Latin jazz rhythms backing the distinctive voices of traditional Chinese instruments such as the liuqin (柳琴), a four-stringed lute, and dizi (笛子), a kind of Chinese flute.
“I want to bring the dance and groove [elements of jazz] to Chinese music,” said Peng. “Chinese music doesn’t always have to be calm or elegant.”
Sizhukong embraces the ethos of jazz fusion: its music takes established forms — jazz and classical Chinese styles — and gives them a new twist. In songs like Bathing in the Stream, the ensemble plays a joyful melody originating from Guangdong Province, but adds a modern groove with upright bass and drums. Soon enough, the song expands into more abstract territory, with extended improvisations on piano, liuqin and erhu (二胡). As the song returns to the melodic theme, the jazz and Chinese “voices” intermingle to create a sound both familiar and new.
Peng took an indirect path to conceiving this uniquely Chinese form of jazz. She studied Western classical music at a young age, but grew bored with it and eventually gave up. But after hearing swing jazz for the first time during university, Peng was inspired to return to music and earned a degree in jazz composition at the Berklee College of Music in Boston.
What: Samba Paradise (2008夏日狂歡音樂派對) featuring jazz ensemble Sizhukong
When and Where: Tomorrow at 9:30pm, Witch House, 7, Ln 56, Xinsheng S Road Sec 3, Taipei City (女巫店台北市新生南路三段56巷7號), admission at the door is NT$300; Sunday at 5pm, Da-an Forest Park (大安森林公園), free admission; Aug. 10 at 3pm, Hsinchu County Cultural Affairs Bureau (新竹縣文化局), 146, Xianzheng 9th Rd, Chubei City, Hsinchu County (新竹縣竹北市縣政九路146號), admission is NT$300 to NT$500
Tickets: Available through NTCH ticketing or online at www.artsticket.com.tw
On the Net: www.sizhukong.com
After returning to Taipei, Peng helped form a small jazz combo, Metamorphosis, which is known for recasting Taiwanese folk songs in modern jazz styles, including Latin jazz, be-bop and post-bop.
Seeking new directions in her music, Peng studied nanguan (南管) and beiguan (北管), two traditional music forms with roots in southern China and Taiwan. Her collaboration with renowned liuqing player Chen Yi-chien (陳怡蒨) set the stage for Sizhukong’s formation.
With Chen in mind, Peng created a samba jazz arrangement of Fengyang (鳳陽), a folk song from China’s Anhui Province. Chen’s performance skills left a deep impression: “I never thought that Chinese music could be this beautiful,” Peng said. And Chen turned out to be a natural with jazz. “The rhythm and syncopation — she caught on easily.” The pair built on their collaboration, and recorded Sizhukong’s first album, which was released last year.
Just as Peng has expanded her notion of jazz music by bringing in Chinese elements, she finds that the same has been true for classical Chinese musicians. Peng cites the example of one of her past students, a guzheng (古箏, Chinese zither) player who studied the instrument for 20 years but didn’t enjoy it until she started playing jazz.
And she has opened doors for jazz musicians as well. Saxophonist Jeff Chang (張哲嘉) of the US, who is playing with the group as a special guest this weekend, said that Peng’s music was something he had “always been looking for” as a musician with Taiwanese roots.
Ultimately, for Peng the jazz spirit lies in “exploring different kinds of music. My feel for music is changing, and my composing goes along with that.”