Ancient China was a mix of cultural and historical interest. For nearly 4000 years (depending on the source of history you read), the Imperial Dynasties ruled China in various shapes and forms. This album covers an extensive period of Chinese history, and has some excellent instrumentals on it. Let’s check this out, which is a collection of works from three separate dynasties from thousands of years ago.
We begin with Chu Shang: Song of the Chu Kingdom (Chu Shang) which is a mystical listen from the go. Some strange and beautiful instrumentation is here, with some plucked string melodies, beautiful wind instrument melodies and a great sense of history here. It is a reassuring listen and sounds fantastic. It sounds mysterious and suspenseful, from many centuries ago. A wonderful and moving listening experience.
Next is the piece Mourning Over Ying (Ai Ying) which is primarily driven by wind instrumentation and a sad sense of melody here. It’s a very excellent piece to hear, and fits the name of the song perfectly. Not bad for an almost three minute piece, it sounds fitting for a melancholy listen. Good effort nonetheless. It is gentle, yet saddeninig.
Flowing Water (Liu Shui) is the next piece, beginning with eerie string plucking that will remind you of the historical importance of the thousands of years of Chinese history. It sounds certainly strange, but is expertly played and an unusual effort in traditional Chinese music. It builds up to a frenetic pace and is an interesting listening experience. Sounds very much unlike anything in western music ever recorded.
Qu Yuan Asking His Way At The Ferry (Qu Yuan Wen Du) comes next, with a sense of historical acknowledgement in the music. It has some xylophone like percussion in it, awesome plucked string melodies and a great set of multiple instruments in it. Some of the background sounds are fantastic in terms of melody. Strange percussion is here, including a gong sound in the recording as well. The track has many elements of suspense within it, making it a strange listen. There is a single gong sound ending this strange piece, a nice twist.
Next is Chu Tune (Chu Ge) which begins with a beautiful wind instrument and what sounds like a Mandolin being played. It is a brilliantly melodic and interesting listening experience, sounding not as eerie as other pieces on this recording. The syncopation between the wind instrument and the string instrument here is magical. It is an excellent listen and has a very good sense of Chinese musical history about it. The wind instrument finishes abruptly, only to return as a surprise. Great effort.
Following is Eighteen Beats From Tartar Reed Flute (Hu Jia Shi Ba Pai) which starts with typical Chinese instrumentation, before a female singer sings some beautiful Chinese lyrics. Mandarin Chinese is one of the most difficult languages in the world to master, and the beauty and melody in these lyrics is perfectly done, along with the language. It has a false ending, before launching right into the second half of the piece. The singing becomes very emotional throughout, and is touching. A brilliant piece, very moving.
A Secluded Orchid (You Lan) starts off with a lone string melody, chimed percussion and a eerie feel about the whole musical piece. It follows a very old fashioned Chinese musical template and is very much an emotional piece. It sounds very odd in its use of scales and notes, showing a side of Chinese music rarely visited today. Sounding quite dark, it is an unusual instrumental with a strange bunch of melodic accompaniment on this piece.
Plum Blossom Melody – Three Variations (Mei Hua San Nong) begins with more unusual notation in a lone string plucked melody. Some extra harmonies then enter the playing, showing this as a quirky historical piece. It is another captivating and moving listen, of melodies from thousands of years ago. It flows quite nicely though, making this a great piece that is enjoyable for Chinese classical music fans. It’s a great solo performance, and is a good addition to this record. The playing here is expertly delivered. A very dark listen.
Next is A Feigned Drunkard (Jiu Kuang) which is a fairly straightforward piece to listen to in comparison to the previous pieces on this recording. It sounds like an instrumental Chinese folk song of old. A nice and different effort than usual here, well played. Rather catchy melodies here, too.
After that we have Guangling Strains (Guang Lin San) which is the longest piece on this album, at well over 10 minutes long. It begins with some string plucking which is brilliantly done. Sounding like fingerpicked acoustic guitar, except that it is on a Chinese instrument, it is a great piece from centuries ago. It is almost like a story being told here, except that it is purely a Chinese music instrumental. The accuracy of the playing here is superb. A refreshing and more typical Chinese instrumental than the other instrumentals on this recording. Some unusual harmonics are here as well. It seemingly slows down in the second section, making it a big variance in tempo and dynamic change. A moody sounding piece, from start to finish. A great solo performance is here. Excellent listening.
Hunting Of The Primitives (Yuan Shi Shou Lie Tu) is the last piece, beginning with a gong sound and sounding very different from anything else on this compilation. It sounds like Chinese classical music out of a horror movie. A high pitched whistle emerges, with some strange and well thought out instrumental melody additions. It is definitely odd, and sounds unlike anything else that you will hear. It’s interesting, and will have you hooked throughout. It breaks into a village music sort of piece after some time, and is very suspenseful. Drumrolls galore are here, too. The whole piece sounds odd.
This is the oddest piece out of this series of Chinese instrumental albums. Regardless, it is definitely worth checking out if you dig just a touch of weird. Definitely unconventional, but essential.