Sounds and Cries of the World
Sounds and Cries of the World is the latest recording from experimental jazz vocalist, composer, and multi-instrumentalist Jen Shyu, who is best known for carving out new improvisational terrain for the voice through integrating traditional music discovered through rigorous research and fieldwork.
A 2014 recipient of the prestigious Doris Duke Impact Award, Shyu is well-respected for her uncanny vocal precision and formidable musicianship. She is perhaps best known as a member of influential saxophonist Steve Coleman’s band Five Elements – most recently on the critically lauded Synovial Joints (Pi 2015).
Her new release is a culmination of her travels through East Timor, Korea, Indonesia, and Taiwan, where she has spent months to years in each place immersing herself in the language and under-recognized music of various indigenous cultures.
Utilizing specific musical forms, dream-like narrative, and language of these various cultures, her work is utterly unique.
Her peripatetic itinerary is not arbitrary: her focus is on music that is rarely heard outside of their regions, especially narrative storytelling from women and shamanic chant from ritual ceremony. What arises from her is an authentic offering that is both grounded in its solid foundation and ground breaking in its singularity.
Sounds and Cries of the World is an intimate reflection of Shyu’s absorption and study of all of these musical traditions and revelations. Singing in English, Korean, Indonesian, Javanese, and Tetum – she is also fluent in Mandarin, Portuguese and Spanish – her lyrics evoke a range of emotions from plaintively wistful to emotionally anguished, with imagery that is by turns brutally explicit and fantastically surreal.
Much of the music has a free-floating feel progressing via internal cues in a system that Shyu was developing before going to Indonesia and further solidified after her Javanese gamelan studies of palaran, in which the form follows the sung melody.
The music sounds free across a steady pulse, but in actuality, everyone including the singer must listen and be perfectly aware of the order in which all the instrumentalists’ cues fit together before they move forward. Helping her carry out her vision are the remarkable contributions from Ambrose Akinmusire on trumpet, violist Mat Maneri, bassist Thomas Morgan, and drummer Dan Weiss.