Jazz Album of the Week: Vibraphonist Chien Chien Lu's "The Path" Honors Her Musical Influences
March 1, 2021. WRTI is celebrating women bandleaders and their music to commemorate Women’s History Month. This week we're shining the spotlight on The Path by Chien Chien Lu, a Taiwanese vibraphonist whose own path led her to Philly’s University of the Arts for grad school to study with vibe master Tony Miceli. This is her debut album as a leader.
While this album doesn’t scream “Philadelphia,” the city definitely shaped its direction, and the WRTI NPR Live Sessions featured Philly band Vertical Current played a role in that by inviting Chien Chien (then studying at U Arts) to join them in a Roy Ayers tribute show a few years back.
That being said, it’s no surprise that Lu’s interpretation of Ayers’ “We Live In Brooklyn Baby” is on point, and features violinist Yoojin Park and cellist Phoebe Tsai, whose stars are rising on the New York scene.
The rest of the band stems from Jeremy Pelt, whom she recorded and toured with for Jeremy Pelt: The Artist a couple of years ago. Drummer Allan Mednard and percussionist Ismell Wignall from Pelt’s band were recruited, as well as bassist Richie Goods, who produced and also played on The Path. He's also responsible for the addition of guitarist (and Philly native) Quintin Zoto and pianist Shedrick Mitchell, and arranging two well-known tunes for this release. They are “Blue in Green” and “Invitation,” which holds a little bit of meaning here, as Lu’s former boss Jeremy Pelt joins her on this one—proving his approval of her endeavor with his band members.
It sounds great too, with Pelt’s ambient playing taking command and Wignall’s hands carrying this up-tempo version.
Before Chien Chien’s musical path led her to Philadelphia, and more importantly, to jazz, she was a classically trained vibraphonist and percussionist who played what was familiar to her—classical music, and traditional music of her native Taiwan. The latter is apparent on “Blossom on a Stormy Night,” which jumps from contemporary to traditional, and the title track of this album, which truly lives up to its name by focusing on tradition and change.
Another standout, and listener favorite, is a version of “Mo’ Better Blues” that will have you wondering when the collection plate is coming around. This already amazing song is taken to a new, soulful level by this group, led by a 31 year old woman who started playing jazz less than a decade ago, but is knocking the socks off of critics and aficionados, as well as jazz newbies who just like what they hear.
The Path is an accurate title for this album. It allows Chien Chien Lu to pay homage to the many forces that shaped her as a musician. Luckily, for us, these choices made her a leader, and we get to enjoy the benefits.