Guitarist Simon C.F. Yu makes a bold statement with his latest release Exotic Species (Chun Fung Simon Yu). A Chinese-born graduate of the Berklee College of Music, Yu would do just fine sticking to standard jazz or fusion music, given his ample chops and harmonic palette. But he goes well beyond those styles on this, his second solo recording. More than another "East-Meets-West" jazz album, Exotic Species is an ambitious mash-up of experimental jazz, electronica, and eastern influences. Using a combination of fretted, fretless, and quartertone guitars (24 frets per octave), Yu easily switches between western-style jazz lines, and phrases that evoke the sounds of his homeland. Several tracks utilize traditional Chinese instruments (such as the Gu-Zheng and the Xun) and vocals as well.
This eclectic "fusion" of sounds, styles, and cultures is Yu's primary focus on Exotic Species, though some tracks are definitely crafted from a western jazz perspective. "Pentatonicism" is the closest Yu gets to traditional jazz fusion fare. Yu's eastern roots are still apparent on this track, but with the odd meter distorted riffs and snappy wah-wah lines, this tune has the strongest "jazz rock" vibe on the album. With "Purify," Yu takes a different approach by incorporating a Guan (a traditional Chinese woodwind instrument) in a straight-ahead jazz setting. This is a great track with a fantastic melody, and some nice lines by Yu. "Spin" is another straight-ahead tune, and showcases some standout bass work by Evan Marien. "The Moon in the River" is a beautiful duet with pianist Dodo Toru, in which Yu displays some very impressive acoustic work. Yu trades fretless licks with David "Fuze" Fiuczynski on a couple of tracks as well, including the adventurous "MCP" (aka "Madness Chinese Politics") where Fiuczynski's insane legato runs are countered by Yu's more subtle eastern-influenced phrases.
It's on tracks such as "The Emperor's Backyard" and "Ending Theme" where Yu shows the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach to composition and recording that really defines this album. Yu throws everything into the hopper on these pieces - hip-hop beats, metal riffs, Chinese instruments, electronica, crazy loops and edits, etc, to create what are "soundscapes" as much as they are "songs." And if those tracks don't provide enough of a curveball for you, Yu also includes "過ぎて行く時の中て" and "羽がない天使" - two Chinese language vocal ballads.
Yu is definitely an experimental musician, but don't let the more eccentric tracks on Exotic Species scare you away if you're a fan of standard jazz fusion. There's a lot to listen to on this album, and the vision and execution Yu displays with this release should be highly praised.
Simon C.F. Yu - Exotic Species (Chun Fung Simon Yu)
1. Introduction: Entering the Forbidden City
2. The Emperor’s Backyard
5. 鏡花水月 (The Moon in the River)
9. Simon Tells You a Bed Time Story
12. Ending Theme
Composer/Guitars: Simon C.F. Yu
Fretless/Quarter Tone Guitar: David “FUZE” Fiuczynski 8, 9
Piano: Dodo Toru 4, 5, 6
Keys/Piano: Takeshi Ohbayashi 3, 8, 11
Bass: Evan Marien 3, 4, 6, 8, 9, 11
Drums: Jeffrey Villanueva 3, 4, 6, 8, 9
Violin: Tomoko Omura 12
Traditional Chinese Instruments:
Xun, Suona, Guan: Yazhi Guo 1, 2, 4
Gu Zheng: Choi Ngar Si 1
Gu Zheng: Jason Lau 3
Erhu: Theresa Wong 10
Vocal: Rio Hara 10, 11
Drums: Jovol Bell 11
Guitar: Adam Tressler 10
Piano: Ayako Higuchi 10
Bass: Miho Sung 10
Drums: Takuma Anzai 10