Richie Goods and Chien Chien Lu strike sparks with their music and their message.
The road that led veteran bassist Richie Goods and fast-emerging vibraphonist Chien Chien Lu to the provocative musical and verbal conversations that drive their socio-politically charged dual album Connected, Vol. 1
began with a casual chat about Roy Ayers.
In 2019, fresh off the road after five years of international touring with Chris Botti, Goods got a call from his old pal, trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, who offered him a spot in his esteemed quintet. Pelt told the bassist about an extraordinary young Taiwanese-born vibraphonist who had joined his group, but nothing prepared Goods for the breathtaking moment he hit the stage at Paris’ famed jazz club Duc des Lombard and saw Lu in action for the first time.
His first thoughts were, “This girl’s kind of killing” and “She’s low-key, not cocky at all.” After they played a few shows, over drinks Goods and Lu struck up a conversation about influences. When Lu told Goods her top guys, he was taken aback. Despite his many musical travels to Asia, he says he didn’t know any Asian people who knew, let alone loved, vibists Ayers and Milt Jackson.
Along with their mutual love of funk, these would be just a few of the inspiring, surprising things Goods — who came to prominence touring and recording with Mulgrew Miller — would learn about Lu, a classically trained percussionist who in 2015 moved from Taipei to complete her Master’s in Jazz Studies at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. Like the fact that in 2008, she joined the world-renowned Ju Percussion Group and performed throughout Taiwan, China, Japan, Thailand and Singapore. She later collaborated with composer Ching-Mei Lin and performed her marimba concerto for six-mallet marimba called “Pulse Wave.” In 2013, Lu performed a solo percussion concert at Taipei Novel Hall and worked with a marimba duo while earning her masters in classical music from Taipei University of the Arts.
Despite these accolades, when Goods suggested the possibility of a solo project, she demurred, literally telling him, “My writing sucks.” Seeing potential in the compositions she shared, he helped her develop them, assembled a band of top NYC cats and produced Lu’s critically acclaimed 2020 solo album The Path
, which spent 20 weeks on the Jazz Week Charts Top 20 and earned Best Song (“The Path”) among four nominations in the Taiwan-based Golden Indie Music Awards. Two months after its release, the two dropped a funky, atmospheric holiday single (“We Three Kings”) that marked their first official dual recording and further showcased their intuitive chemistry, mutual sense of improvisation and effortless communication.
Like many stellar contemporary jazz albums that have popped up during the past few years, Connected
, Goods and Lu’s first full-length dual album, has its roots in — and was by and large made possible by — the pandemic lockdown. “With no gigs on the horizon, “ Goods says, “we decided, after a month of drinking together and watching Netflix, to be more productive. Chien started coming to my house every week to practice standards. We began having provocative discussions about what was going on in the world and decided to start writing songs together.
“The informal criteria,” he adds, “were no stylistic barriers, just write what we want, music we love, without concern for sales or radio play. Then we put together a couple livestreams for Facebook and YouTube, with Chien helping me transform my basement into a nightclub atmosphere with curtains and lights. We also performed a few backyard concerts. As we kept writing and recording, we realized we had enough to do a full album.”
As their professional and personal friendship blossomed, George Floyd was murdered, Black Lives Matter returned to the national headlines with millions protesting across the U.S., and many reports surfaced of anti-Asian hate crimes due to the pandemic’s origin in Wuhan, China. Though they are hardly the most commercial pieces, “2021 Interlude” and “Rain Interlude” are the true heart and soul of the new album, featuring recordings of the duo’s frank, spoken-word conversations about those hate crimes, BLM and the brutal divisions that were gripping American society.
On the former track, Lu says simply that she believes that those who attack Asian people, or people in general, are just not happy, and probably don’t know the difference between the many Asian countries and cultures. Goods admits that, in his neighborhood growing up, “anybody that was Asian was [considered] Chinese.”At one point, Lu offers a lighthearted moment, saying that while Asians are, based on culture, generally quiet, and some may attack them thinking they won’t fight back, “they don’t realize we have Kung Fu.”
“I come from Taiwan, where I encountered no race issues growing up,” says Lu. “I didn’t know anything about those problems in American culture. So when I arrived in the U.S., I kept wondering, ‘What is everyone arguing about?’ We’re all just people. I soon found myself watching documentaries to educate myself. For me, though my classical background could be considered to fit the Asian stereotype, I play jazz to show people that music can transcend those boundaries.”
On the “Rain Interlude,” Goods reflects on the fact that the pandemic allowed them to practice together and create a new band, adding that while “this world is so divided, we’re all about unity.” This mission statement about creating music that would bring people together is spoken over Lu playing the infectious melody of SWV’s early ’90s R&B hit “Rain,” which is based on Jaco Pastorius’ “Portrait of Tracy.” Jaco’s connection to the song inspired Goods to include a full, easy-grooving Quiet Storm-like version of it featuring organ runs by Shedrick Mitchell and a piercing electric guitar solo by Quintin Zoto.
Beyond the foundational “Rain,” Goods and Lu flesh out their vision with a unique mix of original tracks and theme-appropriate re-imaginings — including the sensual and dreamy, then bustling and funky “Water,” featuring soulful,ethereal vocals by Sy Smith; a moody, laid-back, mostly improvisational search for “Treasure Mountain”; the mystical and hypnotically grooving “Embrace the Now,” driven by the adventurous synth soundscapes of BIG YUKI and Zoto’s trippy guitar licks; and the fiery, cosmopolitan, soul-jazz-flavored “Dull Ice Flower,” based on a 1989 Taiwanese film whose politically charged story correlates to our own current struggles.
Saving the most impactful one-two punch for last, Goods and Lu follow a rousing, gospel blues rendition of Donny Hathaway’s “Someday We’ll All Be Free” — featuring one of Goods’ favorite singers, Jamison Ross — with “Someday Outro,” featuring an impassioned and incisive, MLK style unity speech by Pastor Dr. Adolphus Lacey of Bethany Baptist Church in Brooklyn.
“Part of what makes Connected
special for us is that we put our whole heart and soul into everything during a very emotional time,” says Goods. “It was all so organic, and despite the need to have our fellow musicians record remotely, everything just worked and came out cohesively. Maybe it was the fact that these guys who would normally be out on the road were stuck at home, waiting for the opportunity to put their thoughts about the pandemic era into music. Chien was responsible for most of the titles of the original songs — and complementing them with the covers we chose makes sense because they all deal with the issues and things we were going through musically, socially and emotionally.” - Jonathan Widran
Featured photo by Stephen Pyo.