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Vincent Hsu & The Jazz Supreme Orchestra – Music For The River Jazz Suite: The Spirit of Love River and Mississippi River

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Award-winning Bassist and Composer Vincent Hsu
Award-winning Bassist and Composer Vincent Hsu

In his ambitious and challenging work, Music For The River Jazz Suite: The Spirit Of Love River And Mississippi River, bassist Vincent Hsu explores the history of jazz with his own musical trajectory.  While visiting New Orleans 17 years ago, Hsu got an idea to write music honoring the rivers in his life, the Love River in his hometown of Kaohsiung in Taiwan and the mighty Mississippi River.  A little over two years ago, on November 28th, 2021, Hsu’s vision became a sonic reality.  The excellent twelve piece band, The Jazz Supreme Orchestra, infused by Hsu’s driving bass, brought this grand opus into being.

Hsu, now living and working in Taiwan, spent many years studying and learning composition in the United States.  He studied bass with two very important musicians, Cecil McBee and Andy González.  These superb musicians must have left a distinct impression on Hsu as the music on “The Rivers Suite” contains elements of jazz and Afro-Cuban music.  However, it is Hsu’s wild imagination which informs all of the nine songs.

Vincent Hsu & The Jazz Supreme Orchestra - Music For The River Jazz Suite
Vincent Hsu & The Jazz Supreme Orchestra – Music For The River Jazz Suite

Going back in time Hsu evokes the days of slavery in the opening passages of “Overture: Cotton Fields”. Expectations run high as the orchestra shifts back and forth from jazz to Afro-Cuban rhythms, sometimes combining the two.  This heady mix is guided by Hsu’s insistent bass and the commanding power of tenor saxophonist Shen-yu Su and pianist Musaubach.

“River Is Wide” becomes a showcase for the Son Montuno and various instruments display their collective expertise particularly Hank Pan on soprano, Wen-feng Cheng on trumpet and Yi-chung Teng on trombone.  Initially “Rumba For The River Trilogy: Father’s Melody” has a nice lilting quality derived from the tunes Hsu’s father sang to him as a child.  Then the music takes a sharp detour and swings into a cha-cha replete with Yu-chen Tseng on violin and Carol Huang holding down the conga chair.  The band palpably enjoys this section, perhaps spurred on by Hsu’s bass and Musaubach’s piano.

An electric piano intro to “Rumba For The River: Memphis Creek” and the audience senses that something different will be coming.  Hsu picks up the electric bass and Shih-chun Lee soars in with his electric guitar.  This whole section reminds me of fusion music from the seventies with an orchestral backing.

During “Rumba For The River: Dragon Dance” there is a sequence of dissonant unison ensemble work directly followed by the formidable tenor sax of  Su.  The trombone gets in some great licks when Teng blows on “Dragon Dance”.  This piece directly relates to the yearly Dragon Boat festival on the Love River.  Hsu used a 5/4 rhythm to effectively mimic the paddlers’ strokes on the dragon boat.  I was really interested in this piece as I have paddled on a dragon boat for years and found the music and rhythm to be quite evocative.

The drummer Kuan-liang Lin and conga drummer Huang sit out on “Unknown Stars” and Hsu reveals his European classical composition training as the upright bass, piano, violin and soprano sax play a pleasant melody.

“A Pilot’s Day On The Mississippi River” goes through several changes, along the way the trumpeter Cheng ably moves the song along.  From the way the music sways, the listener is transported to the river with the many decisions that a river pilot must make during the course of a day.   Su’s tenor sax goes way outside to bring a bit of chaos and remind us that anything can happen on the river.

The hand claps that begin “River Workers” create a constant beat that echoes the drudgery of everyday river working life.  Lin and Huang pick up the beat and a swinging jazz 4/4 takes over.  Then it is time for Su’s disruptive sax and a Monk quote from Tseng resolved toward the end with the bass clarinetist Chieh-an Fan.

Since water is a thread that runs through the suite “Oya” the Yoruban god of water seems an appropriate deity to honor.  The number 9 is associated with “Oya” so naturally Hsu has written the song in 9/4.  Pan’s wailing soprano over a four chord vamp is a fitting way to point the way out.

There is much to recommend when listening to Hsu’s varied and provocative “River Suite”.  He has composed a piece that resonates with history and two marvelous musical elements, jazz and Afro-Cuban music.  Throw in a little classical orchestra with a live audience and voilá, you have a cohesive contemporary record.  The live audience clearly respects and has a great appreciation of Hsu’s far reaching opus.  Recording live was the best way to capture Hsu’s music and lift the compositions to another level.

Rumba Para River Trilogy – Father’s Melody by Vincent Hsu

Music – 1. Overture: Cotton Field; 2. River Is Wide; 3. Rumba for the River 4. Trilogy: Father’s Melody; 5. Rumba for the River Trilogy: Memphis Creek; 6. Rumba for the River Trilogy: Dragon Dance; 7. Unknown Stars; 8. A Pilot’s Day on the Mississippi River; 9. River Workers; 10. Oya.

Musicians – Vincent Hsu: Music Director, Composer, Arranger.
Vincent HSU & The Jazz Supreme Orchestra: Vincent Hsu: acoustic bass; Hank Pan: soprano saxophone; Shen-yu Su: tenor saxophone; Jonas Ganzemüller: tenor saxophone; Wen-feng Cheng: trumpet; Yu-chen Tseng: violin; Chieh-an Fan: trumpet; Yi-chun Teng: trombone; Shih-chun Lee: guitar; Musaubach: piano; Kuan-liang Lin: drums; Carol Huang: congas; Chieh-an Fan: bass clarinet.

Released – 2023
Label – Truth Revolution Records
Runtime – 1:00:06

Brooks Geiken is a retired Spanish teacher, with a lifelong interest in music, specifically Afro-Cuban, Brazilian, and Black American music. His wife thinks he should write a book titled "The White Dude's Guide to Afro-Cuban & Jazz Music". Brooks lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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