Among many amazing things that happened there was a gamelan performance in the middle of the jungle by musicians who had to pile all their instruments on the backs of elephants and flee Burma because they made music that criticized the government. — Exclaim!, Canada
The result is this splendid suite of six pieces that evokes the sounds and sonorities of that southeast Asian environment — The Gazette, Québec
In 1991 composer/guitarist Rainer Wiens found himself inside Burma with the Karen Rebel Army, who were fighting to overthrow the military dictatorship that still rules the country. This CD is dedicated to the people of Burma and the musicians he met there, playing a fantastic gamelan music in the middle of the jungle and a civil war. Free Burma is a CD of freedom. Freedom from cliche, freedom to combine the uncombineable, freedom to hope and freedom to play with joy despite the insanity that surrounds us. The band consists of a traditional chinese flautist who has also played with John Zorn, a new music viola player who is an amazing improviser, a south Indian percussionist in love with Harry Partch, three jazzers and a guitarist obsessed with kalimbas and rhythm. The band has its own sound.
CD (NUNCA 002)
- Label: Nunca
- NUNCA 002 / 2008
- UCC 844667010749
- 126 mm × 141 mm × 6 mm
- 55 g
In the press
This release by Rainer Wiens plots the latest facet of musical progression by one of Canada’s most creative artists. The subtext of groove provides a rich base for compositions that are populated by a multi-level chorus of songs. These songs range from the literal representations of birds to interwoven melodies that dance with each other and have a remarkable habit of staying in the listener’s memory. Wiens’ extensive study of West African rhythms has informed much of this CD but it’s nowhere near as straightforward as the simple application of rhythms. In No Obvious Solution, for example, the groove cooks happily along, and one rests comfortably in its wake, but then the rhythms morph into permutations that leave Africa for parts unknown. This extrapolation is the result of a carefully thought-out method that takes each instrumental part and rephrases it to the point of vertigo — quite an ear-opening and remarkable experience. Wiens’ sophisticated use of rhythm plus an adherence to clear and beautiful harmonic material has borne fruit in a music that someone can not only react to as a listener but, like all good popular music, can also comfortably inhabit as a participant. However, the music isn’t the only thing that informs this CD. The title isn’t simply a political slogan; it represents a lived experience.
What’s the story behind the title?
Wiens: I was working on this music at the same time the political demonstrations were happening in Burma in 2007 and it brought up memories of a trip I made there in 1991. During that journey, I was smuggled across the border from Thailand to visit with the rebel Karen tribesmen. It was an incredible experience. Among many amazing things that happened there was a gamelan performance in the middle of the jungle by musicians who had to pile all their instruments on the backs of elephants and flee Burma because they made music that criticized the government. In spite of incredible hardship, the people in this camp were friendly and generous and I felt humbled by their ability to smile in the face of tragedy. As a result, I developed a strong attachment to this warm and courageous community. Sadly, all the friends I met there were later killed in raids by the Burmese military.
And how did this affect you in 2007
Wiens: This memory gave me the emotional push to complete the music, get the ensemble organized and make the CD. I then decided to dedicate all the proceeds to the people of Burma via the Buddhist monks, who have set up an aid network that bypasses the military dictatorship.
Just as the Vietnam War inspired Billy Bang’s brilliant reflection on the conflict (Vietnam: The Aftermath), avant guitarist Rainer Wiens was moved after a visit in 1991 to the Karen hill tribe heartland in Burma to reflect musically on their battle with a tyrannical regime. The result is this splendid suite of six pieces that evokes the sounds and sonorities of that southeast Asian environment, with Wiens fitting in harmonically on the West African kalimba. Traditional Chinese flautist Shuni Tsou and Frank Lozano on western flute imitate bird-like sounds before the music becomes more threatening and brooding, with Jean René on viola leading the way with brilliant playing on themes that are menacing without being mournful. His 11-minute ballad, A complicated Sadness, is an outstanding statement. Percussionist Ganesh Amandan and drummer Schneider create rhythmic combinations that could be mistaken for indigenous while retaining their New World verve. It all ends on a hopeful note. Five stars out of five.
Wednesday, December 3, 2008 / New releases