Ju Percussion Group

Saturday, 16 August 2008 at 8pm • Chan Centre for the Performing Arts

Performers Wu Shih-San, Ho Hong-Chi, Huang Chia-Lee, Hwang Kuen-Yean, Wu Huei-Chen, Lee Pei-Shun, Lin Chin-Hua, Lu Huan-Wei, Chen Hao-En, Hsu Chi-Hao

Reviewer John Jane

Wow! Ju Percussion Group’s gig at the UBC Chan Centre may not have been the most melodious ever heard at this venue, but I’ll bet it was the LOUDEST.

Named after its founder, celebrated percussionist Ju Tzong-Ching twenty-two years ago, the group’s goal has been to enhance the percussive music form as a performance art around the world.

For this Festival Vancouver marquee event, the ensemble brought their ten best musicians (5 men and 5 women) and used a battery of both Eastern and Western percussion instruments including marimbas, bass drums, timpani, chimes and various cymbals.

The group opened with Huang Wan-Jen's "Adventure" with five musicians on stage using an assortment of instruments. The piece relates the story of a lone explorer on a Herculean quest. The expressive marimbas initially describe the loneliness of the explorer, giving way to three sets of drums intended to suggest movement across a serene prairie, and finally the marimba, vibraphone and xylophone evoke images of a pristine jungle landscape.

Next, we heard the atmospheric “Moving Moonlight” written by the group’s composer-in-residence, Hung Chien-Hui. Played on dual marimbas by the quartet of Wu Shih-San, Huang Chia-Lee, Lin Chin-Hua and Wu Huei-Chen, this was arguably the most pastoral piece and certainly the most affecting.

The first set closed with the jazz infused Marimba Concerto in three movements, led by virtuoso percussionist, Wu Shih-San. While the form is essentially western classical, Wu gives the marimba an exotic jazzy feel.

“Head Talk,” perhaps as its title subtly implies, is a conversation with a quintet squatting on the floor using only drum-heads (rim and skin) to create rotating rhythms. There was an obvious sense of fun in the performer’s improvisational style that ended with the drum skins bursting over the musicians heads.

The programme concluded with Ho Hong-Chi’s "Drumming Fest" with all ten performers taking the stage to bring their audience to a final high through exhilarating festive percussion in the style of ‘the lion dance.’ The work featured five Chinese bass drums and a Suzhou gong. Traditional Chinese orchestrations are combined with Western rhythmic elements that characterized exciting improvisational playing, including some drum stick juggling.

When the exuberant, largely Asian audience pressed for an encore, the group was happy to oblige with “Brazilian Street Dance.” Marimbas, castanets and erba cymbals combine to recreate a Mardi Gras carnival mood, ending the TD Canada Trust Main Stage Series with a big bang.

© 2008 John Jane