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CD Review: Metropolis Shanghai – Showboat to China

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Is there a classier record label than Winter and Winter?

Nope.

Everything about their releases — from the look and even the feel of the packaging to the music itself — communicates love and respect for the entire experience of discovering and enjoying good music. In this age of MP3 downloads, bit torrents, and iPod playlists, you can especially appreciate Winter and Winter‘s devotion to the pleasures of pulling a CD off the shelf, absorbing the artwork and notes within, and actually listening to the entire album.

Metropolis Shanghai: Showboat to China is another installment in the especially unique and enjoyable Winter and Winter “AudioFilm Edition” series. These releases seek to transport the listener to another place and/or time with music and sound, and have included such marvels as the nostalgic Sidewalks of New York and rollicking Rio (both “directed” by Uri Caine); Schumann’s Bar Music, which is the most perfect dinner music record of all time; the engrossing audio travelogue Orient-Express; and the epic 5-CD masterpiece Cuadernos de la Habana, a sprawling musical tour of Cuba that leaves those Buena Vista Social Club “revival” albums in the dust.

Described as “the sound story about the Paris of the East in the 1930s and 1940s,” Metropolis Shanghai immerses you in an varied and eclectic sound world that I would have never explored if not for this album. It is a unique mixture (not clash) of cultures that draws from Asian folk song, European classical and salon music, traditional Jewish and Klezmer styles, and even some American jazz.

You will hear foghorns and ships at port, hustle and bustle in the hotel bars and markets, soldiers marching down the street, temple bells and chants of monks, and “four old women playing Mah Jong” as a young girl sings “Shanghai Nights.” She returns later humming the same song under the shower, and in the meantime you hear a “piano bar” version of the tune as well (played by Fumio Yasuda, the apparent designated house pianist of the AudioFilm series.) Shots are fired during the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War as “a shellac rotates and rotates” playing a Chopin Nocturne.

This is the pure genius of all of the Winter and Winter AudioFilms — you aren’t just listening to a series of compositions meant to teach you about multiculturalism in Asia (as with the Silk Road Project)… instead you are actually immersed in the entire sound world of this time and place and treated to a truly complete and rewarding “sound story” with a beginning, middle, and end.

Sound quality, production, liner notes, artwork, and attention to detail are of course impeccable and it goes without saying that I strongly recommend Metropolis Shanghai and just about every other Winter and Winter AudioFilm release (and plenty of their other CDs too…!)

To know Winter and Winter is to love Winter and Winter… go ahead, you deserve it.

[from serenade in green]

serenade in green

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