Two master innovators and improvisers, zheng virtuoso Mei Han and Piano luminary Paul Plimley create a rich and original musical language that spans the boundaries of culture and music on two radically different instruments.
Han and Plimleys first collaboration was the real-time transglobal interactive web concert, Sound Travels Global Internet Exchange with Paul Plimley and Mei Han, Vancouver; Akikazu Nakamura, Tokyo; Ellery Eskelin, New York; Jason Robinson, San Diego; Robin Fox & Anthony Pateras, Melbourne; Lê Quan Ninh, Toulouse; Mia Zabelka, Vienna. The success of this event led to a performance by Han and Plimley at the Vancouver International Jazz Festival and their CD UME.
Mei Han grew up in the highly politicized setting of China, formally studying an ancient instrument traditionally tuned in just intonation to a pentatonic scale, while Paul Plimley was raised in the relaxed atmosphere of the Canadian Westcoast studying classical piano cadences while avidly listening to rock, jazz, and blues. Although these environments forged their musical identities, both artists strove to reach beyond these stylistic conventions to explore new terrains and creative possibilities without restriction.
Mei Han is a groundbreaking innovator propelling the zheng into new dimensions of musical expression. Presenting music deeply rooted in the Chinese traditional culture, she is transforming this stately instrument into a powerful tool for the contemporary international concert stage. A consummate performer, she has appeared with leading artists around the world in a multitude of musical genres from symphonic and New Music to traditional and World music, or from Creative Improvisation to electro-acoustic. Mei studied with zheng masters Gao Zicheng and Zhang Yan before becoming a featured soloist for over ten years with the Zhan You Ensemble, the most prestigious ensemble of its type in China. Embarking on a solo career, she has performed in more than ten countries, including concerts at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Washington DC; the National Day Celebration in Ottawa; WOMAD festival in Adelaide and Singapore. A dynamic performer, Mei has been exploring new directions for solo zheng and unique combinations of zheng with other instruments in a contemporary experimental aesthetic. She premiered the first original zheng concerto composed by a non-Chinese composer (John Sharpley) with the China Philharmonic Orchestra in Beijing, 2003. Her collaboration with composer and multi-instrumentalist Randy Raine-Reusch resulted in their Juno nominated album Distant Wind, featuring landmark works for zheng duet. Mei recorded Heartland and Road to Kashgar with the Orchid Ensemble, featuring many newly commissioned contemporary compositions.
Critics expound her fierce concentration in performance, as each note is played with power and commitment and that her playing reminds us that the best conditions for improvisation begin first with the soul and then with intuition. The Montreal Gazette has called her The Zheng Master. A recognized scholar, Mei holds two MA degrees in Ethnomusicology, from the Chinese Musical Research Institute, Beijing (1995) and the University of British Columbia (2000). She wrote the zheng entry for the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, published articles for international music journals, and lectured on Chinese music in academic institutes around the world.
Paul Plimley, pianist extraordinaire, has been raising eyebrows for years now. Those among the lucky have had the opportunity to catch Plimley in performance with the likes of Han Bennink, Trichy Sankaran, Mark Helias, Mats Gustafsson, Joe McPhee, Evan Parker, John Oswald, Ken Vandermark, Mark Dresser, Hamid Drake, Cecil Taylor, Joey Baron, Ned Rothenberg, Derek Bailey, George Lewis, Andrew Cyrille, Louis Moholo, Barry Guy, Vinny Golia, Rene Lussier, Buell Neidlinger, Eddie Prevost, Miya Masaoka, and Randy Raine Reusch. Of notable mention are his long standing associations with the NOW Orchestra, of which he is a co-founder, and his duos and trios with bassist Lisle Ellis. Plimleys numerous recordings include: Kaleidoscopes with Lisle Ellis, Sensology with Barry Guy, Ivory Ganesh Meets Doctor Drum with South Indian master musician Trichy Sankaran, an interpretation of the music of Miles Davis entitled Yo Miles! with Henry Kaiser and Leo Smith, a trio recording with Lisle Ellis and Scott Amendola called Safecrackers, and his own solo recording Everything In Stages.
"Their fluid rapport keeps all options open, leaving the listener with the idea that the music can go anywhere at any moment." Point of Departure
"Ears wide open...Ume is an album which possesses both depth and (relatively speaking) user-friendliness" Clouds and Clocks
"These improvisations are so well crafted and balanced that it is as if each musician is instantaneously composing a part that fits perfectly with the other". Far Eastern Audio