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Jeff Song and Lowbrow: Diasporama

Following the examples of fellow Asian-American musician-activists Jon Jang and Fred Ho, cellist Jeff Song and Lowbrow give this recording a pronounced political dimension. Song intends this music as a mediation of sorts on the Asian diaspora in America, and the song titles (“War Brides,” “Black Velvet Buddha”) reflect his not-always-sunny feelings on the matter. Only on the irony-heavy vocal track “Monday School” does Song let his political ambitions get the better of his musical intent.

Still, Song’s Diasporama is a dry, dreary chunk of music. This exercise in string-dominant, chamberish free improvisation maintains a defiantly collectivist sound throughout, often to the detriment of the music, which often lacks in clear conception or identity. While flute, trumpet, percussion and strings (two cellos and Jason Kao Hwang on violin) give the group a different range of expression, rarely do any individual voices step out from the tangle of sound. For the most part, the music lurches along on the backs of the two cellists, Song and creative partner Matt Turner, who saw away for the duration of the program. The bright spots surface when the group emulates the unmistakable styles of other masters of the avant guard. A Mingus-style blues polyphony surfaces in “Siblings,” thanks, in part, to Taylor Ho Bynum on muted trumpet and in fine form. Elsewhere, as on “War Brides” where flutist Michel Gentile solos over a pizzicato funk, Diasporama moves into Henry Threadgill territory.

Originally Published