That affable sound emanating from Kaohsiung, Taiwan’s laidback, arts-friendly second city, is multi-instrumentalist Brad Goldhorn and violinist Ryan Chen. The duo Shanglu’s debut recording is charmingly simple, and simply charming. Opener “Ears Have Eyes” offers pleasant, precisely executed reggae as a framework for Chen’s capricious, expressive exercises on his violin, owing a lot to Gypsy jazz, and a bit to antique Chinese popular music as well. “Nature’s (not) For You” follows, a light and nimble jazz-rock excursion that quickly falls a bit flat. The subsequent “Strings”, however, more than compensates. It’s a fascinating four minutes that toys with time and space, tension and release. The reggae groove returns on “Chaishan”, a buoyant finale inflected with birdsong, on which Chen’s violin dances while Goldhorn’s discreet cornet periodically honks in agreement. A surprisingly good-humoured number, given that it was inspired by successive bandit raids by a gang of monkeys, robbing Goldhorn of his chickpeas, which they couldn’t even eat.
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