LINER NOTES from the album

By Carl Wilson of the Toronto Globe and Mail:


Think of this album as a new chapter added to Invisible Cities, Italo Calvino's 1972 masterpiece that imagines Marco Polo's descriptions to his patron Kublai Khan of the places he has seen on his journeys through Asia:

-an underground city where earth stands in for air, and people tunnel through the streets like worms;

-another raised on stilts above a forest, where the inhabitants travel by ladder and their feet never touch the ground;-yet another where various colours of string are tied between houses to signify relationships - the city must be relocated and rebuilt each time the web of connections becomes impassable;-a city of the dead, where skeletons are posed dancing or shaving or romancing as they had done in life...or as they wished they had;

- a city that stands by a lake, which mirrors its days so completely that people shape their actions to what will lokk best in the reflection;

- a city that inspires such endless desire that people will work equally endless hours to remain there, like slaves;

- a city hung in nets and hammocks from a rope between two mountaintops;

- a city modeled by astronomers precisely on the map of the heavens, but which turns out to be full of monsters;

- a city that is always only haf-built, so its destruction can never begin.

On this particular expedition, double reed specialist Robbie Hunsinger was the instigator: having played duos with both Tatsu Aoki and Joseph Jarman separately, she suspected something special would happen if all three Chicago musicians got together. How true that proved to be.

Hunsinger grew up in Altlanta, where early on she began studying first piano and then, soon drawn to the "snake charmer instrument", on to oboe, turning pro as a teenager. Although not a regular member, she has played with the Atlanta and Chicago Symphony Orchestras, among others, recording and touring the world to play everything from baroque to Bartok - with occasional sidetrips such as a solo performance in the Children's Palace in Shanghai. She developed a passion for the global variations on the oboe, double-reeded instruments such as the Chinese sona and the Indian shenai, both heard on this recording.

Almost by chance, a decade ago, she took the plunge into improvisation. She added clarinets and saxophones to her arsenal, partly for sheer volume, as well as homemade replicas of double-reed instruments from antiquity, and even an electric oboe with wahwah and distortion pedals. "When I began to improvise," she say, "I turned away from the melodic and harmonic traditions that I was used to. I was determined not to sound like a classical player dabbling in the avant-garde...I learned to stand up and blow very aggressive solos, and found it satisfying and freeing to express that levelo of extroverted intensity."

Since then, Hunsinger has shared stages or studios with Evan Parker, Joe McPhee, Cassandra Wilson, Georg Graewe, Hamid Drake, Michael Vorfeld, Ken Vandermark, as well as Joseph Jarman, and many times with Tatsu Aoki. Along with continued classical performance, she has composed music for theater and has created sound installation art, and founded projects like the double reed trio Corvus and the Chicago Creative Music series. She has been especially influenced by Korean ceremonial music for oboe and percussion, as well as Chinese and Indian traditions and her various partners in improv.

What she brings to avant-jazz from her concert-music background is "my sense of chamber music: matching tones, pitches, weaving in and out of other instruments." That aesthetic is at the forefront of this recording, as Hunsinger has been "finding a way for my classically informed sense of melody and structure to work its way back into this new music...I feel like I have moved from a somewhat squeaky experimental avant garde improvisation to a much broader, inclusive music" with musical materials from many cultures. The sona work on "Hornswoggled" and "Procession" may remind you of the vocal styles of Chinese opera, and you might note the raga feel of the shenai line on "LD50" or the Iberian melodies woven into "Cape of Needles".

In bassist Tatsu Aoki, Hunsinger has a collaborator who has devoted his life to such cross-pollinations. Born in Tokyo, where he was a teen-aged hard rock fanatic, Aoki came to the States to study at Ohio U. before moving top Chicago in 1978, drawn in part by the legacy of the Art Ensemble of Chicago and the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), in which Joseph Jarman played such a pivotal role. Aoki quickly became a familiar sight on the South Side jazz scene, accompanying musicians like Fred Anderson, Von Freeman and Mwata Bowden.

But Aoki, who was frustrated with the south/north, black/white splits in the city, which tended to exclude players who didn't fit either side; he founded the Chicago Asian American Jazz Festival in 1996, and remains its artistic director. At the 2001 festival he premiered his composition "Rooted:Origins of Now," which showcased thundering taiko drummers alongside rock percussionists and Chicago blues -evoked with a bottleneck slide on Aoki's bass- juxtaposed with pentatonic Japanese folk violin and free-blowing sax improv by Bowden. The piece summed up a vision Aoki had been expressing over the years in dozens of groups and solo recordings (he is also a producer and president of Asian Improv Records) and ensmbles such as the Miyumi Project septet.

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Melungeon Records