A Bu’s first album was “88 Tones of Black and White” in 2013. It gained wide acclaim and received far-reaching airplay. This, the second album, is something farther-reaching in its maturity and development.
With A Bu (piano, keyboards and melodica) are Tom Kennedy (acoustic and electric basses) and Ryan J. Lee (drums). Guest artists include Antonio Hart (sax), David Watson (flute and sax), Darryl Dixon (sax) and Cecilia Stalin (vocals).
“Butterflies Fly in Pairs I” was written by Chen PeiXun and arranged by A Bu. Strong piano chords introduce the piece, then Lee kicks in with the drums and Kennedy soon after with the bass. And we’re off.
The cool groove is an excellent backdrop to the fine melodic arrangement and artistry of A Bu. This guy can move your heart and your mind with equal ease. Kennedy and Lee are perfectly complementary with their heads-up Jazz. A Bu throws in some Latin licks along the way and then kicks into furious lines of Jazz virtuosity. The arrangement is splendid and the performance is truly extraordinary.
“Forever Suite Part I” opens with lovely intonation from Kennedy’s bass and A Bu’s piano. The piano introduces a few Gospel chords along the way. The bouncing bass and the steady-on drumming create a lighthearted atmosphere that is exploited beautifully by A Bu’s piano lines. The Gospel moves to straight-on Jazz and it is wonderful.
Ryan J. Lee turns in fascinating drum work. He was a special find on this album. His rhythmic choices are exemplary.
A Bu also gets in some great percussive piano sections.
“Forever Suite Part II” is a warm tango piano and melodica piece that is only enhanced by the work of Kennedy and Lee. It is delightful in its movement and charming in its melody.
Tom Kennedy’s bass is cool and right on it. Kennedy knows what it is to be a young phenom. He was touring with Dizzy Gillespie and Freddie Hubbard before he was 18 years old.
The trio creates a bright and sunny scene and the Latin rhythms and piano lines are hot.
“With Mind I” has Antonio Hart adding his saxophone to the trio. This has all the Jazz characteristics that makes us glad to be alive. There is the hot swing of Art Tatum, the precision of Chick Corea and an astonishing bass and drum complement. In some sections, you can almost hear Return to Forever with the lock-step and furious pacing of piano, bass and drums.
“With Mind II” picks up with the same precision as David Watson’s flute replaces the Hart sax. The effect is uplifting and optimistic. A Bu composes beautifully. He adds so many elements from various ethnic music forms and brings the coolest meters and chords into play.
Cecilia Stalin adds her lovely vocals to the trio on “Memories of Love.” It is a sweeping romance ballad that just steals the heart. The melody is heart-felt and emotional. Kennedy and Lee, once again, have the experience and talents to handle the myriad styles with great aplomb.
The lyrics are by Cecilia herself and the music is by A Bu and they make a fantastic writing team.
“The Last Trip” has Antonio Hart returning on saxophone. There is a touch of Ryuchi Sakamoto at points and that is fine by me. The flow of the arrangement is effortless and Hart and A Bu make for great dialogue as Kennedy and Lee work their magic.
Seriously, I am hooked on the work of these guys.
A Bu makes quick, light-fingered work of the Fender Rhodes. His bent notes are a nice touch at the mid-point. Hart works well with him and the final third of the track is roaring brilliance and swinging spaciousness between them all.
“The Last Trip” turns into an epic journey on the scale of the Odyssey before all is said and done. Brilliant.
“Rainchel” has A Bu on the Rhodes again to start things off before switching to piano. I admit, this composition caught me by surprise. The previous pieces had shown intelligence, design, precision and structure but “Rainchel” shows a joyous profundity that I think I have only heard in Chick Corea. And Kennedy and Lee are right there with him. This one got to me.
“For Kurt” is a tight arrangement with a Fusion structure that is fascinating in its instrumentation and blistering in its pacing. The piano introduction is warm and melodic but it heats up soon enough with Kennedy’s growling bass and the tight thunder of Lee.
A Bu’s technical prowess is beyond reproach and his phrasing is perfect. His instincts are flawless and his choices always appropriate. Amazing.
“Let Me Catch You” has the trio joined by David Watson and Darryl Dixon on saxophones. The quintet lights it up as A Bu smokes the Fender Rhodes and Kennedy and Lee turn in the monster-groove. Weather Report would have been happy to claim this one.
“Butterflies Fly in Pairs II” is the lovely reprise for solo piano. It is a lovely end to a remarkable album.
From Gospel chords to Fusion precision to straight Jazz melodies, written and arranged for solo piano, trio, quartet, and quintet formats, performed instrumentally and vocally, A Bu’s compositions are stunning. His piano artistry is wonderful to experience and the choice of Tom Kennedy and Ryan J. Lee as his trio partners allows him to weave that nucleus throughout the various formats in tight cohesion. This is something incredible. It is everything I want in a Jazz album. More than that, “Butterflies Fly in Pairs” reveals the soul of the artist in a bright light of honesty and vision. A Bu is everything I want in an artist.
~Travis Rogers, Jr. is The Jazz Owl