T'ang dynasty poet Pho Chu-i described a string instrument as "Autumn wind brushing pines, sparse tones fading." But those words could just as easily describe the strikingly beautiful style of the eminent drummer Max Roach, whose light touch and melodic playing have influenced 50 years of jazz percussion. The Beijing Trio--including Roach, pianist Jon Jang and erhu master Jiebing Chen--brought their cross-cultural virtuosity to a packed Coolidge Auditorium Saturday.
Mixing solo performances, duets and trio works, Roach, Jang and Chen crossed over the great wall that separates traditional Chinese music and jazz. The high-pitched erhu, a two-string bowed instrument, is not normally used in improvisation. But Chen sounded perfectly at ease improvising with the legendary Roach and the talented Jang, whose relaxed melodies relied as much on space as notes.
While the trio performed works like "Moon Over the Great Wall" and "Sweet Whisper of a Flower" from its CD, the show's centerpiece was Jang's commissioned work for the program, "The Temple of the Drum: An Offering to Max Roach." With Jang rumbling the piano's low end with chucks of melody, Roach narrated the composition with beats both lightly funky and contemplative. The song finished with a vaguely boppish feel in honor of Roach's legacy.
Before ending the nearly two-hour show, Roach joked: "After working with Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell--this is so refreshing!" Like an autumn wind.