This 1979 effort by Vangelis polarizes many listeners – they either love it or hate it. It’s an album that’s lush and certainly innovative for its time, but doesn’t integrate world influences as effectively as some other performers have done.
“China” is part of Vangelis’ early creative peak. In the 70’s and early 80’s, he recorded many albums that have become classics of popular electronic music. China was recorded right in the middle of this time, and is a beautifully-orchestrated set of simple melodies influenced by the sound of Chinese music.
Listeners looking for a world music fusion on this album will be disappointed, though. The sounds of “China” on this don’t sound very Chinese, but more of a superficial influence. If this doesn’t bother you, the ablum is a fantastic example of Vangelis’ work.
Vangelis is at his best when he creates lush synthesized orchestrations for his improvised folk melodies. This combination puts the otherworldly sounds of his sythesis into a context that listeners can easily understand.
“Chung Kuo” starts the album off with a bang. It begins with clashing percussive noises, white noise sounds swirling around, and then changes to a beautifully orchestrated melody with sequenced backing. It mixes right into the next cut, “The Long March”, a piano solo that takes some of the melody of the first cut and improvises on it in a neo-classical way. “The Little Fete” sounds like real chinoiserie, and is the type of thing that people either love or hate. It is a setting of an 8th century poem. It is orchestrated beautifully, but with out any guile or irony. Fans of new age music will eat this up, but electronic music fans that like edgier music will be jumping for the “next track” button on their remote.
“Himilaya” is a standout cut. It’s a long piece that seems to reflect on the vastness of the Himilayas. Listeners that like some of Vangelis “spacier” music will love this cut. It is atmospheric, and uses washes of sound to evoke cold, windswept mountain spaces.
If you’re interested in a real fusion of Chinese and western musics, this isn’t it. But if you like the music of Vangelis, China is work from one of his creative peaks.