Refreshing energy from the East, by 12 talented ladies
Daniel J. Hamlow | Narita, Japan | 10/05/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"OK, want something different and exotic? Disillusioned of Bond posing as classical but in fact drifting more into that oontsa-oontsa music? Tired of waiting for another Charlotte Church album? Look no further, and look also to the East, and of twelve women who play instruments that date back 1500 years, meaning the time when China was divided into the Northern and Southern Dynasties in the pre-Sui and pre-Tang era. They play the dizi (bamboo flutes), the yang qin (dulcimer), the gu zheng (zither with movable strings), the erhu (a two-stringed Chinese fiddle), and the pipa (a large four-stringed lute with a pear-shaped body). Put together, this delightful dozen, coming from different ensembles in the People's Republic of China, produce a unique and exotique sound.
"Miracle" serves as an intro to the 12GB's sound, decidedly Chinese, harking back to centuries of tradition while melding within it pop and classical sensibilities, as the lively orchestral arrangements demonstrate.
They then do an equally strikingly exotic cover of Coldplay's "Clocks" that totally outdoes the original while retaining the melody and the sense of longing within. The liner notes state how the 12GB infuse the "ardent wish to overcome so many of life's difficulties" in their version. Don't we all? Those opening dizis and erhus give a weird but outstanding ambience.
Other tunes are more thoughtful, such as "Liu San Jie," based on a Chinese story of a girl who became a fairy, "Shangri-La," and "Forbidden City," conjuring the mystic and mysterious aura of both the utopia from James Hilton's novel and the city of Beijing, which became the capital of the Chinese empire from the Ming Dynasty.
Their trademark song, "Freedom" is a bouncy revamp of Turkish composer Santuri Ethem Efendi, which has similarities to "Allegretto" performed by Bond and Myleene Klass. This is one of the better songs here, as is the playful "Alamuhan," with its wailing erhus, piping flutes which trade off in the verses.
Only Twelve Girls Band could do a wonderful instrumental cover of Enya's "Only Time" with the dizi setting a reflective tone that the original did, as well as the stringed erhus replacing Enya's vocals and doing justice to one of the Irish songstress's best ever songs.
The band finishes off with a medley of Mozart's 40th Symphony G Minor, Allegro Molto, Beethoven's Fifth Symphony in C Minor, and part of the overture of Gioacchino Rossini's The Barber of Seville. What's cool about it is that a funky backbeat plays as the girls do their things on "New Classicism," amusing considering "A Fifth of Beethoven" from the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack also used Ludwig van's Fifth.
As for the DVD, the main goodies are excerpts from their sellout concert at the Budokan in Japan, where they perform "Shangri-La," "Alamuhan," "New Classicism," "Forbidden City," and "Freedom." What's noticeable is their concept of symmetry, embodied in the performers playing in three rows. The three yang qin players in the rear, the three pipa players in the middle, and the six dizi, gu zheng, and erhu players up front. There's even a reverse pyramid motif in their "Freedom" video, where there's a five-four-three arrangement while they play in the desert. And they sure enjoy performing, if pipa player Shuang's vivacious smile is anything to go by.
No cheesey musak in a Chinese restaurant here. This is exotic stuff. Oh, by the way, the women on the front cover and the instruments they're holding are as follows:
1. Kun (pipa) 2. Yuan (dizi) 3. Jian-Nan (gu zheng) 4. Bao (pipa) 5. Yan (erhu) 6. Jing Jing (gu zheng) 7. Li Jun (erhu) 8. Ying (erhu) 9. Song Mei (guzheng) 10. Ting (erhu) 11. Bin Qu (dizi) 12. Shuang (pipa)
Thanks, ladies. "
New age with Chinese instruments and a bit more groove
J. Lund | SoCal, USA | 08/20/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"After hearing EASTERN ENERGY several times I found quite a few aspects to like, while a few areas left a bit to be desired. Yet the latter should be weighted against the fact that this is their debut USA release and as such there's lots of time for them to reach their potential with music of greater artistic impact. I'm not really into "new age" music, but I do recognize that there is an audience out there that is emotively impacted by this genre. And despite it not being my normal listening fare, I do feel an emotive connection with a fair amount of the material on EASTERN ENERGY. On the other hand, I find that impact negated at times by either the tunes and/or the somewhat sterile by-the-numbers new age sheen (obtrusive on some tracks moreso than others).
However, overall EASTERN ENERGY is to me a bit more intriguing brand of new age due primarily to the colorations of the traditional Chinese instruments. At its best, certain tracks remind me either a bit of the folkier tunes that Weather Report and similiar jazz fusion groups composed (e.g., "Lu San Jie"), or of other intriguing Asian/electronica fusions (e.g.,"Freedom"). In the future their music might gain greater interest if they stepped out of unison more often (they do at times, but I'd like to see it happen more frequently). And on the accompianing DVD there is a section where several of the women start improvising much like jazz musicians do. More of that would be a step forward, too.
Despite my intermittent reservations, overall I'm happy with the CD...this group certainly deserves to be a pop culture phenomenon moreso than many others currently creating a buzz in the upper reaches of the pop charts. What would really amaze me though would be if in the future they collaborate with some truly provocative world and/or groove producer/musicians. A few that came to mind are The Angel, Talvin Singh, Ryuichi Sakamoto ... and if I thought about it longer I could probably come up with others (like they care what I think!). Lastly, don't be surprised if children find the music and the 12 Girls' visual appearance quite captivating, particularly on the bonus DVD which has a videoclip and concert footage."
Donald Martin | Florida | 04/25/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Twelve Girls Band is a music ensemble from China that actually consists of thirteen young women who perform in various orchestras throughout the entire country. The group will perform with 'twelve' musicians according to the schedules of the members. The thirteen members of Twelve Girls Band are: Bin Qu Liao, Shuang Zhang, Ting Sun, Song Mei Yang, Ying Lei, Li Jun Zhan, Jing Jing Ma, Yan Yin, Bao Zhong, Jian Nan Zhou, Kun Zhang, Yuan, Sun, and Jin Jiang.
"Eastern Energy" is Twelve Girls Band's US debut album. The music is blend of traditional Chinese music, classical music, and a hint of pop music thrown into the mix. The results is breathtaking to say the very least.
Here is the list of songs on the album: 1. Miracle 2. Clocks 3. Liu San Jie 4. Earthly Stars (Unsung Heroes) 5. Freedom 6. Shangri-La 7. Reel Around the Sun 8. A Girl's Dream 9. Forbidden City 10. The Great Valley 11. Alamuhan 12. Mountains and Rivers 13. Only Time 13. New Classicism
All the songs on the album sounds spectacular but I especially adore their interpretations of Coldplay's "Clocks" and Enya's "Only Time". You wouldn't have imagined that taking a now classic Coldplay song and turning it into a classical/pop instrumental would work but it really does here. I love the women's cover of "Only Time". Although there are no vocals on both cover songs (as well as the rest of the album), the instruments used makes up for the lack of vocals. It is almost they are singing. My personal favorite song on the entire cd has to be the sumptuous "Earthly Stars (Unsung Heroes)". The melodies really stood out for me. Another great song is the last song "New Classicism" which is a melody of three classical compositions by Beethoven, Mozart and Rossini. I loved all the songs. The sound in general is primarily traditional Chinese music but there is a distinct classical influence with a hint of a pop sound thrown into mix, especially with the cover songs. There wasn't a single song that I had to skip over.
The performances by the women of Twelve Girls Band are amazing. There were times when I thought I was listening to my other favorite classical/pop group Bond. Like Bond, Twelve Girls Band puts in a lot of energy into their music. I look forward to hearing more from Twelve Girls Band.
ALSO RECOMMENDED: MEHDI ~ INSTRUMENTAL HEAVEN VOLUME 7..A TRUE GEM..FULL SAMPLES ARE AT SoothingMusic.Com...Just Listen !
E. D. Garcia | San Francisco, CA | 10/23/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"If you're interested in purchasing Eastern Energy, you're paying for the CD, not the DVD. The DVD is really not much more than a few tracks recorded from a live performance at Budokan, and an introductory "commercial" for the band.
Now that the DVD is out of the way, the audio CD: To put it bluntly, their covers of ColdPlay's "Clocks" and Enya's "Only Time" are nearly worth the purchase price alone! Add to that some of the other gems on the CD: Earthly Stars (Unsung Heroes), Freedom, Reel Around the Sun, Forbidden City, and Mountains and Rivers. Each of these tracks have something a little different to offer and all very catchy. Whether it's esoteric and calming, or upbeat and driving, the band's performances and orchestrations are nearly perfect.
Personally, I found Alamuhan and New Classicism to be the only flat tracks on the CD. Neither of them moved particularly well and the intonation of New Classicism was flat. (Perhaps J.S. Bach's Prelude from Suite No. 1 in G-Minor, or Vivaldi's Summer: Presto from The Four Seasons would be better for these instruments?)
While I agree with other reviewers that the CD (and DVD) were over-produced, it's only a minor distraction. I can't fault the band for a mixer-happy producer.
If you like what you hear from the samples available, you will love the CD."
An enchanting album
Erica Anderson | Minneapolis, MN | 10/20/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I remember first seeing a television commercial for "Eastern Energy" a few months before it was released to the American public. I was impressed by what I heard in that 30 second clip. Awhile back I got around to listening to hearing more samples of "Eastern Energy" at a major bookstore chain and loved what I heard. I finally bought the cd today when I found a used copy at my favorite record store. "Eastern Energy" is everything that I expected it to be. Just like the band's namesake, Twelve Girls Band consists of thirteen women from the republic of China. They all play in various orchestras in their native homeland but will perform as twelve according to their schedules. The arrangements is stunning. I particularly enjoyed the beautiful "Earthly Stars (Unsung Heroes)". I found myself truly moved by the song. I love "Forbidden City' with its big, majestic sound, something you would hear in a movie like "Hero" or "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon". The band's interpretations of "Clocks" and "Only Time" were nothing short of wonderful. "Only Time" I especially enjoyed. It had the same soothing effect on me as the original version by Enya. I didn't think that turning a well-known pop/rock song like "Clocks" into classical instrumental would work but here it really did. I found it really compelling to listen to. All the songs on the album are great. As a fan of classical/pop music, "Eastern Energy" is a welcome addition with the band's ethnic influence shining brightly throughout the songs. Their music breathes new life into the classical-crossover genre."