By Bill Meyer | Published September 2021
Since moving to the United States in 1992, Min Xiao-Fen has bridged the Chinese opera and folk music that she was raised on with sounds from the rest of the world. While she works often in the realm of contemporary classical music, she finds jazz especially inspirational. White Lotus is Min’s soundtrack for Wu Yonggang’s 1934 silent film The Goddess, which depicts the travails faced by a woman of limited means who is struggling to support her son. Min plays the pipa, the four-stringed lute for which she is best known, and three similar stringed instruments. Her sole accompanist is guitarist Rez Abbasi, who proves responsive to her needs throughout.
The theme of White Lotus invites Min to explore the similarities between certain Chinese folk styles and the blues. The bent notes of her guqin on “Anicca,” the first track, evoke Delta country blues, while her growling vocals sound like they were uttered on a stage in Beijing. The galloping rhythm and alternately elongated and snarled syllables that she utters on “Faith” convey outrage over the circumstances of the film’s heroine. And the intricately entwined acoustic phrases on “Karuna” are exciting on purely musical grounds. Not every moment rises to the level of these pieces, but the music is never less than engaging.
White Lotus: Anicca; Bija; Champaka; Dukkha; Emaho; Faith; Gassho; Hatha; Ichie; Joriki; Karuna; Lotus. (45:30)
Personnel: Min Xiao-Fen, pipa, sanxian, guqin, ruan, voice; Rez Abbasi, acoustic guitar, electric guitar.
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