Ruiqi Wang (王睿琪)–Subduing the Silence

Out: October 27th, 2023 on Orchard of Pomegranates (CD/DL)
Genres: Vocal Jazz, Free Jazz, Experimental
RIYL: Annette Peacock, Sidsel Endresen, Cymin Samawatie, Theo Bleckmann, Jay Clayton 

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Subduing the Silence by Ruiqi Wang (pronounced “ray-chee wong”) is one of those striking debuts that might just seem to have materialized out of the clear blue. Slated for release on celebrated Montréal musician Ayelet Rose Gottlieb‘s new imprint Orchard of Pomegranates, it weaves spacious, abstract vocal jazz, contemporary chamber music and even elements of Chinese traditions into an unusual, seamless whole. This succinct album provides an impressive document of this gifted young vocalist, composer and improviser and her singular musical imagination.

The disc opens with one of three renditions of “Xiang Leng Jin Ni,” an ancient Chinese song with a text by 11th century female poet Qingzhao Li. Awash in the delicate turbulence of Mili Hong‘s drums, Wang’s delivery is expressive yet restrained. Anchored by the minimalist thrum of Summer Kodama‘s bass, “A Letter to L” begins in dim patter, before Stephanie Urquhartoffers a luminous arpeggiated chord. This gesture ushers in a soft cloud of string harmonics (courtesy of special guests, Boston’s Craft Ensemble) that simply hovers for a moment, holding the music in suspension. The voice then leads an ensemble-wide blossoming with a languid wordless melody that tucks itself into the lush string arrangement as the composition opens up. The piece covers an intriguing array of material over the course of its peculiar and sumptuous unfolding, neatly encapsulating the gentle ardour that underpins Wang’s writing. 

Clocking in at just shy of a minute, “Vibrating” is the first of several short instrumental interludes interspersed throughout the album,each of showcasing the insightful musicianship and broad sonic vocabulary of her core ensemble. The energy shifts on “A Descent of Lillies” as the band locks into a vigorous groove that supports angular melodic figures and freeform extemporization from Wang and her bandmates. Following the lyrical interlude “Shimmering,” she sings “Xiang Leng Jin Ni” again, this time totally unaccompanied. The dream-like vignette “I Am A Tree” anticipates elegant ballad “Dream of the Pines”—arguably the familiar sounding piece in the collection. Its unfettered beauty steers the album toward a temporary place of repose alongside the bowed-bass led interlude “Deep Stillness.”  For the final arrangement of the “Xiang Leng Jin Ni,” listeners get a taste of Wang’s formidable ear for instrumental colour as she weaves a detailed tapestry of swooping ornaments for the Craft Ensemble, the track’s only performers. For the album’s closer, she sets a text by Argentinian poet Alejandra Pizarnik, initially singing across a string arrangement that faintly echoes the previous cut before Hong, Urquhart and Kodama join the fray. 

Subduing the Silence ambitiously packs a wealth of ideas into its 36 minutes without ever losing its sharp focus. Wang’s nimble singing and deft, thoughtful arrangements—enlivened by the sensitivity and versatility of her all-female cast of collaborators—display a maturity and vision that eludes even some seasoned musicians. 

Born and raised in Hangzhou, China, Ruiqi Wang moved to Tio’tia:ke/Montréal in 2017 where she studied in McGill University’s Jazz Performance program while immersing herself in the vibrant local scene performing in venues such as the Upstairs Jazz Club, Ursa, MAI/SON MTL, and Le Basement. Wang’s mentors encompass a diverse array of respected artists that includes the likes of Ranee Lee, Camille Thurman, Ayelet Rose Gottlieb, John Hollenbeck, and Meredith Monk. Alongside the latter’s voice and movement workshops, she also nurtured her curiosity through studying frameworks such as the Deep Listening® practices established by trailblazing composer Pauline Oliveros. In addition to the double quartet heard on this album, Wang’s current projects include the Ruiqi Wang Chamber Ensemble, which features her singing alongside piano, bass, drums, flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, bass clarinet, and string quartet. She also collaborates with August McKinney (piano, modular synthesizer) under the moniker Soft Weathers, an outfit that has moved from interpreting standards toward more exploratory terrain by way of incorporating electronics and free improvisation. Wang is currently embarking upon a Masters degree in Jazz Composition at the Bern Academy of the Arts in Switzerland under the direction of lauded musicians such as Django Bates, Andreas Schaerer and Ralph Alessi.

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