Wednesday, July 08, 2009

TimeOut HK Interview of The Chimes

From TimeOut HK Magazine 08/07/2009:

The Chimes interview by Michael Guan

Here at Time Out Hong Kong, we know Henry Chung well. Apart from being a damn fine blues harmonica player, Chung contributed his jazz wisdom to these pages for a year. But even we were somewhat surprised by the scale of his new project, what he describes as "possibly the first ever made in Hong Kong gospel album."

Over the years, Chung and his younger brother Roger, a graduate of Baltimore’s prestigious Peabody Conservatory, have built up dozens of songs which, apart from performance at their local church, went unreleased to the public. "With these songs, we didn’t just want them to sit there," reflected Roger, with Henry adding "we want the public to know these songs. We thought in some ways, we could touch them."

After several setbacks and criticism from various labels for being "too ambitious", the brothers finally received financial backing from a charitable organisation, and set about producing their debut release, an album focused largely on gospel music which would come to be called The Chimes.

But this is no Sister Act, gospel-choir album, full of single-genre spirituals. According to Henry, that isn’t what gospel is about. "Gospel is really an umbrella term for [music] where the lyrics are still associated with church. It can be R&B, rap, hip-hop, pop, whatever."

The Chimes reflects gospel’s musical variety. Opening with the traditional spiritual sound of Soul Serenade I, the album jumps into the R&B of the title track, before touching on doo-wop, bossa nova, hip-hop, and folk. The album then winds through a series of down-tempo, reflective tracks, and finishes with the optimism of the nine minute strong That Morn shall be Tearless, which features references to A Whiter Shade of Pale, No Woman No Cry and Imagine.

Although its religious aspects are more than apparent, both Henry and Roger hope their album’s messages of social justice, world peace, and friendship will spread beyond the Christian community. "These are the types of songs that haven’t appeared in the Cantonese repertoire in a long time, since the band Beyond," says Henry.

In producing this mainly Cantonese and Putonghua album, the songwriting aspects were just the start. One of the most remarkable aspects of The Chimes is the list of names that have contributed their talents – company that Henry likes to call "Hong Kong’s own Buena Vista Social Club."

Hong Kong's Grammy-nominated king of gospel, Howard McCrary, lends his distinctive vocals, with the likes of Chet Lam, Ted Lo, Eugene Pao, one of China's foremost flamenco guitarists Raymond Au, and erhu master Hou Shih-Chieh just part of the who's who of the territory's jazz community that appear on the album.

"It’s a miracle," responds Henry when asked about getting this group together. "I think Time Out magazine helped us a lot. I was interviewing people, doing the jazz column for a year, and I got to interview a lot of great people." (No, we’re not just giving ourselves big ups – he did say this.)

And once the word about his project got out, things started to get easier. "Some of them were like "I was waiting for your call", because they had started to hear about it around town."

To kick off the release of this ambitious album, the Chung double act will host the first of four launch gigs at the Fringe Club on June 11, where they will be joined by local jazz identities Billy Chan on piano, guitarist Barry Chung, Bob Mocarsky on organ, Au Hong on bass, and Jimi Galvea on drums. With all proceeds going to charity, this is a project that the whole community should embrace.

Henry and Roger Chung play the Fringe Club on July 11.

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