Friday, August 07, 2009

From South China Morning Post: Act of Faith for Blues Brothers by Robin Lynam

Act of faith for blues brothers SCMP Thursday July 9, 2009

Henry and Roger Chung explore their spiritual side through gospel, writes Robin Lynam

Henry Chung is not the first bluesman to balance playing the devil's music with the Lord's. Blind Willie Johnson and the Reverend Gary Davis are just two who made the connection between the blues and spirituals overt, and the “father of gospel music", Thomas A. Dorsey, was a blues pianist previously know as Georgia Tom.

Nevertheless, it may come as a surprise to audiences who have witnessed Chung blowing up a storm on his Saturday night harmonica gigs that Sunday morning finds him worshipping in a Methodist church. Now that side of his life is finding expression in his music.

There may be a few blues tunes played this Saturday at the Fringe Club when Chung takes the stage with his brother Roger and their band, but the emphasis of the evening will be on devotional songs, performed in a wide variety of styles.

“Blues and gospel are brothers. A lot of the old gospel music comes from blues roots,” says Chung.

The gig marks the official launch of The Chimes, which he describes as “possibly the first “made in HK" gospel album which features an all star cast”. It is a joint project by the brothers, with Roger handling lead vocals and Henry on harmonica. All proceeds will go to a charitable foundation, although exactly how the money will be disbursed has yet to be determined.

Guest vocalists on the album include Grammy nominated gospel singer Howard McCrary and local performers Mimi Lo, Mimi Tang, A-dAY, Marsha Yuan, and the Eternity Girls. Instrumental contributors include Ted Lo, Eugene Pao, Barry Chung, Roel Garcia, Joey Villanueva, Anthony Fernandez, Sylvain Gagnon, Tommy Ho, Jezrael Lucero, Rayvaughn Covington, Raymond Au and Hou Shieh-Chieh. A number of street musicians and several members of the Hong Kong Sinfonietta also contributed to the sessions.

For the gig, the brothers' band will be led by pianist Billy Chan with Barry Chung on guitar, Tsang Tak-hong on bass, Bob Mocarsky on organ and Jimi Galvea on drums. Roger, an accomplished keyboard player, will contribute some parts, but will concentrate on lead vocals.

The Fringe Club performance inaugurates a mini “tour” of Hong Kong in support of the album, taking in gigs on July 24 at Backstage Live, July 30 at the Philia Lounge and August 5 at the Kubrick Café.

For both brothers, The Chimes was a labour of love, and they are keen that it should reach a wide audience. It is their first joint recording project, and Henry Chung’s first as a leader. He says he would also like to make a blues album, but hopes to do so in the US with members of the last Muddy Waters Band.

The Chimes took about six months to record, and the Chungs involved as many of Hong Kong's leading musicians as possible.

The investment in quality of sound and performance has been considerable. Two months were spent on mixing alone and the album was mastered at Sterling Studio in New York by Greg Calbi whose credits include Paul Simon's Graceland.

Chung stresses that the songs, for each of which the brothers wrote both words and music either jointly or individually, are not intended to promote any particular religious line, but rather a more general sense of spirituality.

“In God we're all one, and that's what this album is about,” he says. “We're preaching values like world peace, and seeking freedom and liberty, releasing oneself from pain and suffering.”

Both brothers stress that with this CD, along with expressing their religious views, they wanted to showcase and pay tribute to Hong Kong's musical diversity and include elements of the many styles they have loved over the years.

Along with gospel-styled tracks, The Chimes incorporates elements of blues, jazz, bossa nova, reggae, acoustic contemporary folk and a fair dose of Canto-pop. Although some lyrics are sung in English, much of the album is in Cantonese.

Both brothers are nostalgic for the Canto-pop of the 70s and 80s, which they consider “the golden age”. It is Roger Chung points out, the music they grew up with before going to America and being introduced to the blues and jazz.

The album is also dotted with musical allusions to chapters of the western pop history. Thanks Be to God quotes the classic Santo and Johnny instrumental Sleepwalk while That Morn Shall Tearless Be echoes Bob Marley's No Woman No Cry, John Lennon’s Imagine, and Procol Harum's A Whiter Shade of Pale by borrowing the chord progression from J.S. Bach's Air on a G String.

Soul Serenade is a Chinese hymn, but shares a title with soul jazz saxophonist King Curtis signature tune.

“We wanted to present the best sides of Hong Kong to people so we got the best Hong Kong musicians. This is not only our gift to God but our ode to Hong Kong people. We want to share the best of Hong Kong music with them,” Henry Chung says.

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