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Jen Shyu & Jade Tongue: Sounds and Cries of the World

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“Song for Naldo,” the penultimate track on vocalist, composer and multi-instrumentalist Jen Shyu’s new album, first nods to a writer friend, a “weaver of words,” a “weaver of dreams.” The focus then shifts to a vibrant dream of Shyu’s own that, involving an otherworldly image of her mother, is equal parts reverie and nightmare.

That dark-light, soothing-terrifying duality is evident across eight of the nine other selections (calling them “songs” is a disservice; her work is performance art of the highest order). Though born in Peoria, Ill., Shyu, a Fulbright Scholar and Doris Duke Impact Award recipient who spent eight years with Steve Coleman’s Five Elements, has dedicated much of her professional life to exploring the musical heritages of her Taiwanese and East Timorese parents. Here she focuses specifically on recent field research in Timor-Leste and the dreams it evoked.

Alongside her Jade Tongue bandmates, bassist Thomas Morgan and drummer Dan Weiss, augmented by trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire and violist Mat Maneri, Shyu alternates between piano and four pan-Asian instruments: the gat kim (Taiwanese moon lute); gayageum (Korean zither); kkwaenggwari (Korean gong); and kemanak (Javanese gamelan idiophone).

It is a magnificent, multilingual cacophony, spanning soft moans, velvet purrs, startling squawks, banshee screeches and bloodcurdling screams. This thrilling ride remains dizzyingly unsettled and unpredictable until the closing title track, Shyu’s glorious adaptation of a poem by Taiwan’s Edward Cheng, connecting the ancient spark of humankind to the promise of a limitless future.

Originally Published