China

a look at the music of Vangelis Papathanassiou

China promotional LP with booklet

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Review
Judging from the Chinese quote already appearing on the sleeve of the 1977 Spiral album, sometime in the seventies Vangelis developed an interest in the ancient culture and philosophy of China that culminated in this first recording to be released on the Polydor label. The company took an active interest in the project by releasing a gatefold first edition of the LP with a booklet containing a lengthy essay and many unique pictures as well as probably ordering the shooting a promotional film showing Vangelis doing recording work in his studio. From the essay we learn that Vangelis considers his musical philosophy to coincide with that of the ancient Chinese, who state that music can have a positive effect on the whole body rather than just entertaining the intellect. Another interest of Vangelis mainly concentrated in the seventies, namely in all kinds of percussion, also coincided nicely with this project, which provided the opportunity to bring in some old Chinese instruments. It seems Vangelis didn't actually visit China at that time, but learned about it through the instruments and by reading books, with some quotes appearing in the booklet.
During the album's 40 minutes, Vangelis manages to capture many diverse elements of China and its people, at least the way it was centuries ago: its tortured history (in The Long March), their philosophy (in Yin & Yang), their story-telling (as in The Little Fete), the tranquility of its country-side (as in The Tao Of Love), its vastness (as in Himalaya). Adding to the atmosphere, the album-cover used for all subsequent regular releases apparently shows Vangelis himself swimming in sort of turquoise-colored water. The authentic Chinese sound was designed especially for this album and is a noticeable improvement over the previous RCA albums. It manifests itself through the use of gongs, acoustic guitar-like sounds, various high ethereal sounds, all very pretty in a delicate way. However, some traditional western instruments are also used at the end of The Long March Vangelis shows us how good a piano-player he can be and old friend Michel Ripoche from the Paris days has a nice violin-part in The Plum Blossom. The fine Himalaya track shows Vangelis' ability to maintain the listener's interest for over 10 minutes even though being rather static in its musical argument but still not purely ambient.
As a nice side-project Vangelis visited a London children's school to record their vocals on top of the Long March track, released as the B-side to the single released from the album. Its A-side, a subsequent compilation album and concert favorite, adds to the confusion of what is actually the Long March track. On the CD-release it is prefixed with some introductory music and called Chung Kuo, with only the piano-part following it and musically clearly related to it called The Long March. However, the CD-release seems to have gotten it wrong altogether, the introductory music should be called Chung Kuo, all that follows is The Long March, with only the first chunk appearing on the single.

Review by Ivar de Vries

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