Lee Pui MING (b.1956)
she comes to shore
to… [6:16]
coils [4:35]
turning [7:05]
open [2:07]
dive [7:23]
she comes to shore (2009) [23:27]*
…she [7:07]
shimmers [3:39]
Lee Pui Ming – piano improvisation
The Bay-Atlantic Symphony/Jed Gaylin*
rec. Humber Recording Studios, Toronto, Ontario, Canada and Pfleeger Hall, Rowan University, Glassboro, New Jersey (she comes to shore), dates not given.
INNOVA 796 [64:20]

Her sixth CD release to date, Canada-based Hong Kong native Lee Pui Ming’s she comes to shore is one of those tricky to categorise musical ventures which might as easily have ended up in the jazz section. The innova website places it under ‘new classical/jazz’, and the only reason it finds its way onto the classical section of MWI is that there is a piece listed with the word ‘concerto’ in the subtitle. Lee Pui Ming’s work here is described as ‘open’ improvisation, presumably in order to distinguish it from ‘free’ improvisation, which has gathered something of a reputation for unlistenability over the last fifty or so years since being recognised as a genre. The sustained intense barrage of notes of coils will be quite familiar territory to those aware of some quarters of free jazz performance, but in general the musicianship here is more on the sensitive and personal side. It is invidious to make direct comparisons, but one needs points of reference and the spectre of Keith Jarrett and pianists such as Paul Bley is never too far away either, particularly in the gentler pieces such as to… and the related … she. Lee Pui Ming’s technique and imaginative inventiveness cast a wide net, and there is always an underlying sense of direction and structure in her improvisations. I’m not so inspired by the piano-slapping of open, but the string-manipulating harmonic-series resonances of shimmers has its own appeal. Turning has something of the atmosphere of Debussy’s Des pas sur le neige, and the impressionistic undulations of dive also have a Francophile quality in parts.

she comes to shore is subtitled concerto for improvised piano and orchestra. The improvised piano part has the freedom to move over the orchestra with only the given tonality of the accompaniment at any one point as a restriction of the kind of material which might arise. As one might expect, this orchestral material does contain a certain amount of static texture and repeating patterns, but the actual musical content turns an interesting idea into a fascinating and emotive work, provided with effective climaxes and a good deal of structural integrity. Imagine something a bit like Gorecki’s Symphony of Sorrowful Songs adapted to make a richly textured piano concerto and you might have some idea as to what to expect from the first movement, which concludes in an extended solo cadenza. The second movement is a darker affair, with, after a gentle introduction, the string sonorities punctuated by stabbing low brass and close clusters from the piano. Throw in percussion and we’re in cinema land, a cataclysmic event of some kind putting us all in extreme peril. The final movement is a resolution and rescue from this turbulent central section, more lyrical material creating a serene landscape of high mountains and a calm sea. There are no booklet notes, so the imagination of the listener is given free rein to make of this piece what it will, but there are so many associations with a wide variety of film scores that no-one will have difficulty creating their own narrative and internal visual imagery.

You won’t have heard the Bay-Atlantic Symphony orchestra on CD before as this is its debut recording, but by all accounts they make a fine job of she comes to shore. This CD is well recorded and highly involving and entertaining, showcasing the remarkable talents of a fine musician at their best. I would suggest this is more a disc for fans of the Hollywood grand gesture in the concerto and of the genre blurring work done by musicians such as Chick Corea and Keith Jarrett in the solo piano playing than enthusiasts for intellect-challenging avant-gardism. This said, such personal and emotively charged statements deserve respect, and have certainly gained my admiration.

Dominy Clements

Jazz; classical... improvisation is what you make of it.