Min Xiao-Fen’s “Dim Sum”: Thelonius Monk, John Cage, and the Queen of Pipa

Posted: July 2, 2013 in On Beauty, On Music
Tags: , , , , ,

Here is a review that I just posted to Amazon. Nothing here that you can’t read there; just sharing.


Min Xiao-Fen is among the world’s great Pipa players. Her earlier recordings of traditional Chinese music prove that, over the course of many years, she has developed a level of speed, agility, precision, and nuance that rivals the best plucked string players of any time and culture. I preface my comments about “Dim Sum” with these words because I believe that artists should show their proficiency in the basic foundations of their craft before developing non-traditional techniques. Min Xiao-Fen has clearly done this. Now, having proven her Pipa prowess, Min has expanded the boundaries of the Pipa in wonderful ways. I can not express how much I respect what she has done better than Kurt Gottschalk did back in April in The New Your City Jazz Record” when he said: “never do her avant (guard) impulses get in the way of the purity of her music.” Min plays traditional Pipa, finger piano, sanxian, Nanying pipa, toy pipa and electronics in a way that reminds me of ensembles like The Art Ensemble of Chicago, composers like Anthony Braxton, and other jazz artists like Don Cherry (and his toy trumpets!). The album has roots in the work of the such diverse influences as John Cage and Thelonius Monk; yet it never looses it’s subtly or the sublimity of it’s Chinese Pipa and Sanxien origins. There are a total of 10 tracks. Every one is a really beautiful creation. My personal favorite is “ABC” (American Born Chinese) but every one of the 10 makes me smile. When I listen, I consider myself lucky to both love the pipa and to love Thelonius Monk. But, as long as you have even the slightest bit of an open mind, you will find myriad beautiful passages and can’t possibly walk away without being stunned by her virtuosity. Needless to say, I totally dig this disc and I have no doubt that my fellow jazz fans, pipa fans, and a heck of a lot of crossover fans will like it just as much. Want to improve the West’s relationship with China? Check this out!

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