Kuzu is a trio comprised of Dave Rempis on alto/tenor/baritone saxophone; Tashi Dorji on guitar; and Tyler Damon on drums.
Purple Dark Opal is their new album. It was recorded live on October 14, 2018, at The Sugar Maple in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Purple Dark Opal, the album, is a single 55 minute and 31 second track called, “To The Quick”. A bold choice for these attention deficient times.
A lot of improvising percussionists have jettisoned their traditional drum kits for large assortments of small, and large, percussion. Unlike those players, Damon is a capital “D” drummer, who plays a, more or less, traditional kit. He skitters and twitches across the skins and cymbals, seldom allowing what I perceive as the “beat” to drop below 200bpm.
I would describe Dorji’s guitar playing as textural. He doesn’t seem to use a large array of modern digital FX with his playing, it is a fairly dry tone, albeit with some distortion. However, he does often employ the non-traditional areas of sound generated by his guitar. Harmonics from the strings below the bridge, etc.
Of the three, Rempis is probably the most traditionally melodic player, though he, as well, is not afraid to explore the outer limits of his saxes’ sounds and his technique.
Though Purple Dark Opal is, no question, “energy jazz”, the players leave plenty of space in sections for quieter, or more sparse, explorations. Other times, one of another of the players will lay out, leaving the other two, or occasionally one, time to change the direction or velocity of the energy flow.
The fact that there are different moods over the duration of To The Quick, mean that there is always something new to listen to. While a single track doesn’t make it the most accessible album in the world for whatever is left of Jazz radio, I found the album to be very enjoyable on repeat for the entire week, picking up and leaving off wherever it aligned with my daily commute.
Last year I talked about Wuyi Stone Oolong tea, (Or Wuyi Yancha,) when I received an assortment of them from white2tea, starting from this post on “Iron Arhat“.
A type of Wuyi Yancha, Da Hong Pao, or “Big Red Robe” can be among the most highly desired, (and expensive!) teas grown in China, especially if it comes from the legendary few original tea bushes allegedly chosen by a monk and designated when he put his “Big Red Robe” over them.
While none of these teas are original Da Hong Pao, many of them were chosen by Jon Huarong Li of Tong Xin Teahouse to represent the best Wuyi Yancha teas he tasted in 2019.
To celebrate this year in Wuyi tea, he created a “Premium Yancha Tasting Flight“. It is a set of 12 single dose samples of (mostly) 2019 Wuyi Yancha teas.
Also, in 2018 I had ordered a selection of Wuyi Yancha from Yunnan Sourcing. Some of the varieties overlap with the teas from Tong Xin Teahouse and some don’t. But they provide interesting contrast to the Tong Xin teas.
Because I didn’t write down any notes about this tea, I will simply quote the description from the Tong Xin Teahouse website.
“Today, I want to talk about Shui Xian, the lotus peak in Wuyi rock tea. It is one of the thirty-six peaks in Wuyi Mountain, and it is also well-known. The Shui Xian tea garden has a good environment, old trees, long fragrance, and obvious rock charm. The Shui Xian tea garden uses boiling water to Chong Pao, which has a longer fragrance. The dried tea has both the fragrance of orchid and flowers. People familiar with rock tea know that Rou GUI has made it very well A tea has the fragrance of osmanthus. Shui Xian makes this tea very well. He has the fragrance of orchid. This is a kind of fragrance of his. We say Yan Cha is made with the right technology, which is to make the characteristic fragrance of rock tea. This year’s Wuyi rock tea production process has been greatly improved compared with last year. We say that the most difficult part of Yan Cha process is Bei Hoo. If it is baked high, it will have a burning smell and cover up its fragrance. If it is not baked enough, the tea soup will have a green and astringent feeling, the fragrance is not enough, or the tea soup is thin, and there is no alcohol thickness, so this fire is particularly difficult to grasp.”
“”Lao Cong” (or old bush) Shui Xian is grown in the Jiulongke area of Wu Yi. Jiulongke is included in the “Zheng Yan” (lit. “Proper Rock”, meaning strictly the original area of Wu Yi Mountain) area of Wu Yi Mountain. This Lao Cong is grown and picked from 100-150 year old bushes. Shui Xian is the oldest varietal of Rock Oolong and has been grown in Wu Yi for several hundred years.”
“Lao Cong Shui Xian generally refers to Shui Xian tea trees with an age of more than 60 years. Shui Xian belongs to large leaf type, late growth type, and semi arbor type. Its leaves are larger than those of ordinary small leaf type tea trees. Its growth environment is generally humid, and its surrounding ecological environment is good. Lao Cong tea trees are covered with various parasitic plants, especially moss. Lao Cong Shui Xian has a high age of trees, so it absorbs a lot of natural breath and has a unique flavor of mountains and varieties. It is difficult to pick Lao Cong Shui Xian because the tea trees are very high and it is necessary to use stairs when picking tea.”
Tong Xin Teahouse
It’s funny, some of the notes from the yancha from Yunnan Sourcing sometimes mention a marijuana-like smell in the flavor notes. I got the hint of marijuana smell in some of their teas, but here it is, in this Tong Xin Teahouse yancha full on, from the wet leaves to the tea in the glass.
Medium charcoal roast flavor as the tea cools in the glass and a strong earthy mineral character grounding the tea.
Great length of flavor and very good resteepability.
Even though this tea has had since 2015 to settle, it is a bit of a bruiser. You have to like big teas, to like this one.
I again spaced on notes for the Lotus Peak Rou Gui, so will reproduce the notes from the Tong Xin Teahouse website.
“Wuyi Mountain Rou Gui, also known as Yu Gui, why is it called Rou Gui? Because of its strong fragrance of cinnamon, it was named this name. Rou Gui is a kind of tea with high fragrance, which is charming and domineering. There are more than 200 kinds of fragrant materials in it, and it is also the most fragrant and changeable tea among all Wuyi rock tea. Therefore, Rou Gui is loved by so many people. It has a strong sense of mystery. The tea in Wuyi Mountain scenic spot is called Zheng Yan tea, whose quality is also excellent. When we make the first four bubbles, we can choose to make soup quickly (3-5 seconds). Because it’s a highly fragrant tea with a strong fragrance, the first four bubbles can reflect the essential characteristics of cinnamon and what kind of fragrance it belongs to. From the beginning of the fifth bubble, we have to soak it consciously for some time (1-3 minutes). Many people say that it’s not good to make this tea without fragrance after eight to nine bubbles, not eight to nine. The tea after jiupao drinks its astringency, water alcohol thickness and Gan Tian degree, which is what we call “Yan Yun”. Not every tea is the same. There are many misunderstandings among tea makers. I will share this conclusion with you because many Yan cha in the tea market are not the tea planted and produced in Wuyishan. They are sold to you as the tea of Zheng Yan in Wuyishan. In fact, as long as you taste it with your heart, you can distinguish its good from the bad. It’s easy to drink a cup of tea, but it’s hard to taste a good cup of tea. I just share some of my experiences over the years. Maybe some of my friends don’t agree with me. I hope you can put forward more opinions. I will accept them with an open mind.”
“Rou Gui means Cinnamon in Chinese (肉桂茶). It’s varietal of Wu Yi Mountain rock tea that has been around since the Qing Dynasty. First flush of spring tea is picked, wilted, fried, wilted again then lightly roasted to bring out it’s subtle bouquet of aroma and tastes. Our Rou Gui is a medium roast level and can be brewed 7 to 10 times easily using the gong fu method of brewing. The brewed tea produces a golden tea soup with hints of fruit and chocolate. A lovely tea that can accompany you on almost any tea session.”
Super solid well balanced flavor.
Decent resteepability, as long as you keep early steeps short.
Moderate length of flavor, with a bit of lingering bitterness and a nice perfume.
“Ma Tou Yan Rou Gui 马头岩肉桂 (lit. Horse Head Rock Cinnamon) is a unique varietal grown in the “Zheng Yan” Ma Tou Yan 马头岩 area of Wu Yi. Zheng Yan (正岩) refers to the innermost protected area of the Wu Yi Heritage site. It’s a protected area separate from the scenic area and outsiders are not allowed inside. The “Zheng Yan Growing Area” refers to these tea gardens: tiānxīn yán/天心岩, mǎ tóu yán/马头岩, huìyuàn/慧苑, zhú kē/竹窠, bì shí/碧石, yànzi kē/燕子窠, jiǔlóng kē/九龙窠, yù cháyuán/御茶园, yù huā dòng/玉花洞, shuǐ lián dòng/水帘洞, fo guó/佛国, táohuā dòng/桃花洞, guìlín/桂林, sān yǎng fēng děng děng/三仰峰等等. Ma Tou Yan area is 425 meters high. Rou Gui varietal has been grown here for over 100 years and many of the bushes are quite old. The mineral taste of the Zheng Yan area is present in this tea. The processing style is a medium-high level of roast done respectfully over several months time. The taste is silky and sweet… roast taste is there but not strong and will fade over a few months. Nice thick body with a long lasting sweet cinnamon-like after-taste. Tea can be infused 7 to 10 times if brewed gong fu style.”
Darker Roast/Heavier Oxidation
Chocolate and camphor flavors.
Very Good length of flavor and fair resteepability.
Flavors of the later steeps edge towards herbaceousness.
“My Aunt Chen Zhenying has 40 years of practice and research experience in the Tea Research Institute. She has rich experience in the cultivation, cultivation, management and traditional rock tea production technology of the tea garden. Besides the fourth Quxi of JIUQUXI, Wuyishan, is the seat of Wuyishan Tea Science Research Institute and the former royal imperial tea garden. Now, most of the famous varieties of Wuyi Mountain are from here. Today, I want to share this tea with you from the Dahongpao made by Aunt Chen Zhenying. What is the matching Dahongpao? It refers to the Dahongpao (generally 4-5 strains of tea) which is made up of more than two strains of tea. The main ingredients of rock tea are cinnamon and Narcissus.”
Tong Xin Teahouse
In my limited experience with Wuyi Yancha, I think this tea is as close to perfect as I have yet tasted. It is such a wonderful balance of perfume, roast, and astringency.
A seriously great tea to contemplate, and turn over, again and again, on your tongue and in your mind, on a cold winter’s day.
“Grown naturally in a small family plot in Tong Mu Guan village in Wu Yi Shan, these Da Hong Pao varietal tea bushes have been growing without human involvement and are picked twice a year in May and late September! The aroma is at once nuts, chocolate and floral, while the taste has these elements too, but also some slight astringency to complement it’s pungent and vibrant nature. Sweet and thick in the mouth the tea that reminds just how good unadulterated naturally grown tea can be!”
Grassy, vegetal smell in pre-heated pot.
A little bitterness/astringency to the liquid as it cools.
Some stems and buds noticeable.
Almost like a green tea made from yancha varietals, even a bit of nuttiness.
“Da Hong Pao is the quintessential Wu Yi Rock Oolong varietal. Our Zheng Yan 正岩Hua Guo Xiang (花果香 Flower Fruit Aroma) was harvested in May 2018 and tirelessly processed through roasting and resting, and only available for sale by mid-June (this is fairly typical for Wu Yi rock oolongs). “The tea leaves come from mature bushes that grow in an area with heavy mineral content in the soil. This superb (and classic) environment for Rock Oolongs is felt when cupping this divine tea! Thick, sweet, viscous, and complex with tons minerality, cannabis, fruit and flower tastes melded together into something that is better experienced than talked about. Zheng Yan (正岩) refers to the protected areas of the Wu Yi Heritage site. It’s a protected area separate from the scenic area and outsiders are not allowed inside.”
Smell in the pre-heated pot has a strong floral and roast character, reminding me of Chinese incense.
Sweetness and astringency in flavor, thick soup.
Very unusual flavor of the tea also reminds me of Chinese incense and perfume.
“Qilan, one of the representatives of Wuyi rock tea, is a very distinctive kind of rock tea. People familiar with it all know that rock tea is famous for its water and not for its fragrance. Today’s Qilan, which I share with you, is made by my brother Gao Peng. Description: Its fragrance is fresh, full-bodied, not as fierce as Qilixiang (seven mile aroma) yancha, but has its own penetrating power, Its first two Infusions are standard orchid fragrance. It’s like an empty valley orchid which spreads its fragrance. It’s particularly elegant and refined. However, from the third infusion, its fragrance has changed into an obvious Gardenia fragrance. The fragrance is stronger, stronger and more vigorous. The fragrance is rich, clear and sweet, which is intriguing. Besides the fragrance, the soup of Qilan also has its own characteristics. The soup is extremely sweet. At the entrance, I almost thought that I was drinking fully fermented black tea. However, when I drink it, I feel like walking in a quiet valley and meeting an independent orchid. I am happy to pick it up and suck the nectar of its flower juice. Its sweet smell of flowers is like the magical dew from heaven.”
Tong Xin Teahouse
Pleasant smell in the pre-heated pot.
First narcissus/lillies, then medium roast and medium oxidation.
There is an implied candy scent of fruit pastilles in the aftertaste.
Good resteepability and very good length of flavor.
“This Yan Cha was cultivated from the Wusan Di Tea Garden. Jin Mu Dan tea is a clone, shrub type, middle leaf type, and an early-growing species. The fertility of buds and leaves is strong and tender. Jin Mu Dan was bred with excellent quality, strong lines, long fragrance, mellow and sweet taste, bold flavor and quality characteristics of a Tie Guan Yin varietal. In fact, Jin Mu Dan was bred by the Tea Research Institute of Fujian Academy of Agricultural Sciences from 1978 to 2002. A crossbreeding between Tie Guan Yin and Huang Bi creates the unique taste and aroma of Jin Mu Dan.”
Tong Xin Teahouse
Excellent smell in the pre-heated pot, sweet orchid and narcissus.
Medium roast flavor and oxidation.
Complex and perfume-ey aftertaste, with a lingering sweetness.