Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Kev's Music Review: C.O.U. Chinese Organic Union

For those of you who follow my music reviews, you'll probably notice that I review mostly contemporary jazz. But to be honest, I am a great lover of anything jazz. In fact, much of the greatest advances in jazz are coming from jazz fusion, which I've been spending a lot more time exploring, and which I will hopefully begin reviewing more for you.

It is no surprise then, that when a new group labeled themselves the first 'Chinese Jazz-Rap', I was more than intrigued. Jazz? Good. Rap? Good. Chinese? Gooood. (Thats a parody from Joey on Friends by the way).

Earlier in September I went to their cd release concert and party, just to check them out live, and see what their idea of jazz-rap was all about. To my surprise; it was really good. Well, it had serious potential. A little raw in some areas, like when they tried to infuse their Chinese rap with Chinglish slang to make it more 'authentic'. But two things really caught my ear: 1) the DJs knew their stuff. They've produced some serious thick beats overlaid with some even heavier jazz-influenced tunes. Even without the rapping, I would have purchased the CD cause their Jazz-hip hop beats were really movin'. Most of it is thanks to Kirby Lee, the main DJ, who has just come out with his own debut solo album. 2) The premier featured rapper, J-Fever, is a really really talented lyricist. Not only is he native to Beijing (while some of the other rappers in this collective come from Shanghai, HK, and South China), but his Putonghua, or standard Chinese, is so clear that it is a pleasure to listen to him wrap. The way he uses the cues during the off-beats really goes well with the laid-back, sit-back style of this jazz-rap.

It wasn't too long into the first song that I was bopping, and nodding in appreciation and agreement. "Alright" I said, "they got good skill". And then I took a closer look. These guys were young. Well, at least J-Fever is. He is still in college I believe, which means that he has a bright future ahead of him if he plans to devote it to music.

In anycase, a glimpse into the emerging underground of Chinese hip-hop, and one potential direction it is headed. If indeed C.O.U. and it's community continues to gain popularity as it has been, we could potentially see Chinese hip-hop evolve into a forerunner for the popularization of Jazz-influenced Hip Hop. This could be a very exciting development, and could potentially be the launching platform for different kinds of jazz -- jazz fusion, jazz house, and yes, even traditional contemporary jazz-- to make a real home here in China.

I will keep my tabs on how C.O.U., Kirby Lee, J-Fever and the whole Chinese Jazz-Rap movement grows.

Keeping an ear to the ground,


Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Kev's Thoughts On... Philosopher Kings vs. CEO Presidents

Here's a random question for you: What would you rather have, a Philosopher King or a CEO President?

I got this idea a month ago while reading a Business Week article about New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (link to the article provided below). The article outlines many of the innovative programs Mayor Bloomberg has initiated since taking office, and praises the mayor's superior business experience in streamlining the bureaucracy. It also mentions how George W. was supposed to be like a CEO president, as Bloomberg has been for NYC, but failed to do so.

And then I asked myself: "Is America looking for a CEO president?" What does that actually stand for? In the case of Bloomberg, that has meant an increasing of governmental efficiency, at the cost of tearing down bureaucracy. Its meant arming the governing body with the best technology, pioneering new ways of processing information, so that the organization can best serve its customers -- its constituents. It also means accountability. A CEO has to sign off on the financials, is responsible for the rise and/or fall of the entire 'enterprise'. "The Buck Stops Here" means the final answer, blame and credit ends with the CEO. A CEO is also the one who can get results while still engaging a multitude of differing and often times opposing interest groups. Is this what America (or all contemporary democracies) expecting of their political leader? Its not bad. Sounds pretty good to me if all of our leaders acted like ideal CEOs.

But I could't help myself and had to peek back into history and see what were the ideals before. If today we are asking for CEO presidents, what was the 'dream leader' of old? Enter the Philosopher King. Confucius dreamed of a day when the world's nations were ruled by philosopher kings, people who had the capacity to not only understand the intricate issues their people presently faced, but also had the foresight to set a vision and course for the future. A philosopher king could fight wars with words, not armies. King David of the Isrealites was a great poet and song-writer. His son King Solomon likewise was a central progenitor for the Book of Proverbs, filled with many wise and wonderful teachings still applicable today. You can find many cultures that share this same desire for such an inspired, learned, wise leader.

So why the change now, from Philosophy King to CEO President?

My only guess is that the nature of democracy, and the rise of the educated class have had deep influences to our nation state. The idea of a philosopher king arose when nations and civilizations were mostly illiterate, uneducated and unruly, and when many kings of that period were only interested in war and pillage. Perhaps in an educated democracy as today, all we need is an actionable executive that has the strength to carry out the concensus of the people. Perhaps we feel as an educated society we, as a voting mass, are smarter or wiser than one wise man? Does today's democracy demand from us a slight inherent mistrust of our leaders? Is there no room, no need, for a philosopher king anymore?

I don't know about that.

An effective political leader that could bring all the benefits of a CEO and a well-oiled bureaucracy would be wonderful. But as we look at our party's candidates in whatever coming election is next, think to yourself whether perhaps we are setting our sights too low just shooting for a CEO? Can we not aspire for a Philosopher King as our elected leader?

My Reflections On... What is the Epitome State of Being?

What is the Epitome State of Being?
By Kevin KC Lee

A couple nights ago I was lying in bed unable to fall asleep, and I was dwelling on my life rhythm over the past year or so. I’ve been from full-time employment to full-time school, to full-time job hunting. In the last few months I’ve had the opportunity to be both really busy and really free. Yet, lying in my bed, I still had the feeling deep inside that while I’ve achieved a lot in my life up until now, and am determined to achieve even more, I have not found my optimal rhythm or as I call it, “State of Being”.

My Dad has been teaching me since I was a child to always be productive. Stay productive, and you get somewhere. At least with being productive, you are never standing still, and that means you’re exposed to new opportunities. Ok. Sounds like a good idea. The problem I have with just being Productive, is that it doesn’t fulfill the Why and What questions of life. Why be productive in the thing you’re doing? What is the significance? To me, being just ‘Productive’ is the equivalent to being an automaton, working away at life for... wealth, comfort, family, security… whatever, without stepping back and giving yourself the chance to choose to be something significant, special. No, for me, life measured in productivity is not enough. There are too many people in this world that work so hard everyday, and yet all that effort does not amount to a true monumental force. That work is not translated into significance. It’s not the Epitome.

Lots of people adhere to another philosophy, as I have for a long time, which is: “Live Life Balanced”. My dad has embraced this ethos as well, now that he is transitioning into the prime of his life. Yet, as sound and as wise as this State of Being is, it still for some reason leaves me lacking. How does balanced living build significance? Balance is definitely a great life rhythm if all you’re looking to do is survive and live a long and ‘fulfilled’ life of contentment. Hey, who wouldn’t want that? It sounds pretty good. Still, is Balance as fulfilling as it should be? Can there be something else that is even more fulfilling?

Another common life maxim people use is “Live each day as if it were your last”. Sure. We all get that. Carpe Diem. That was actually my high school’s motto. But how does that apply when all you want to do is sit down on your day off and watch a whole lot of TV? How does that apply when you’ve spent the last 36 straight hours playing Halo 3 or the newest console game? Does this mean we should give up entertainment? Or that all we should be is entertained? When a lot of people think of “Seize the Day”, they think of skipping school/work and going skydiving or bungee jumping. Why not? If today was our Last day, shouldn’t we fill it with all the experiences we’ve always wanted? Shouldn’t we take that year off and travel the world before its too late? Ok. Our rational side is telling us living each day as our absolute last may not be too sustainable for the long run. Lets look at it from the opposite angle. Are you seizing the day when you find yourself cramming for an exam in a course you know you’ll never learn from? Or how are you seizing the day when you’re pulling an all-nighter at the office completing a project for your client? Hmm. Doesn’t sound too Optimal does it?

So these thoughts were zipping through my head as I was trying to drift off to sleep, and a question formed in my mind: What then is the Epitome – Optimal, Apex – State of Being? What is the state of being that best leverages both work and play? That leverages both intense focus and intense relaxation?

I couldn’t think of the answer. So I did what I naturally do in search of answers, look at real life examples of people who had achieved significance and had found that “Epitome State of Being”.

Unsurprisingly in those wee hours of the early morning, my mind couldn’t think of too many examples, but the examples I could think of were these:

Mozart: I had just re-watched the movie ‘Amadeus’, depicting the struggling yet brilliant short life of Mozart. As what the movie portrayed, he was far from perfect, and yet while still a musical prodigy, his life was highly un-balanced and he ended up dying penniless and at the age of 34. Yet the body of work he left behind, the ideas he began influenced and radically changed our world far beyond the realm of classical music.

John Coltrane: Like Mozart, John Coltrane had enormous ideas to go along with his enormous sound, the likes of which, I postulate we haven’t seen since. What was so amazing about John was, like Mozart, John died at a very early age; just into his 40th year. Lucky for us, he was alive when recording technology was available. Coltrane's recording rate was astonishingly prolific: He released about fifty recordings as a leader in twelve years, and appeared on dozens more led by other musicians. John died of cancer, but had a tough time kicking a heroin addiction earlier on in his life. And yet, even through all the trials and a very short time on this earth, the body of work and the paradigm-shifting ideas he put forward have forever changed our musical world.

It then dawned on me, looking at the similarities between Mozart and Coltrane, that perhaps the answer laid in Creativity. Perhaps the Epitome State of Being had something to do with being Creative, and putting forth new ideas. Even while both of these two individuals lived short lives, the amount of effectiveness they had, the volume of work they contributed, the significance they had on the world, is immense. And it all stemmed from their unceasing creativity. I know what you’re going to say: “your conclusion is based on two musicians, of course you’re going to say its Creativity.” And I could go on with musical examples – like Charlie Parker – but to make the small survey sample have a little more variety, and to test my theory of Creativity, here are two more examples:

Albert Einstein: I believe Time Magazine named Albert the man of the last century, and I suppose he is one of the greatest examples of someone who lived at an Epitome State of Being. His work can be summed up in a big mushroom cloud. Yet his ideas and his genius are far more extensive than that. It seems that even Einstein recognized the importance Creativity played in a life of Significance, in the Epitome State of Being. Here are some quotations from Einstein concerning creativity:
“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For while knowledge defines all we currently know and understand, imagination points to all we might yet discover and create.”
“To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle requires a creative imagination and marks the real advances in science.”
When you begin to investigate all prominent figures both present and in history, I think you’ll begin to see that the essential ingredient shared by all is a ravenous appetite for applying creativity to whatever they did, whether it is directly in the arts, or in science or life. I know what you’re going to say next: “You’ve looked at three geniuses. Your theory of Creativity doesn’t apply to normal people”.

Gandhi: Case in point. Gandhi was a smart man, but I would argue he wasn’t an indisputable genius like Einstein or prodigy like Mozart. However, Gandhi is the perfect example of what ‘normal’ people can do, if they embrace an Epitome State of Being based on Creativity. It didn’t take a genius – just a creative person – to understand resistance does not have to be waged violently, and it also just took creativity – although some may think it genius – to see that given the right platform, one man can hold a nation together through a time of struggle and violence. Even Gandhi attributed much of what he did to the product of creativity:
“Every moment of your life is infinitely creative and the universe is endlessly bountiful. Just put forth a clear enough request, and everything your heart desires must come to you.”

What has emerged after reviewing these figures of significance is this: The Epitome State of Being is one of Constant Creative Criticism and Critical Creativity. This can be applied to all our lives, regardless of our situation or stage in life. Creative Criticism is about taking another look at preconceptions, norms, habits, learned facts, traditions, people, organizations, the world, and you – anything – and being creative about what it really means, or whether it has multiple meanings. We should look at everything creatively critical. Not to tear down what is already there for the sake of being critical, but to always look at things with fresh eyes, and a fresh mind. Be creative when you read the news, watch a movie, play a game, listen to someone speak. There is more to it than just taking in the information. See what it applies to, where it adds value, not only to you, but perhaps to someone or something else. Be Critical, but Creatively so, where it becomes a positive, constructive attribute.

At the same time, be Critically Creative. Armed with constant new truths, new knowledge, new perspectives, strive to always be creative. In everything. When you’re doing your projects, when you’re cooking, when you’re shopping, when you’re going on a date, when you’re teaching your children, when you’re thinking about the world, when you’re reflecting upon yourself. Being in a constant state of Critical Creativity does not mean you have to pick up a brush and start painting, but see how you can shake up your world by always innovating everything you do, all the time. Innovate your thinking, innovate your talking, innovate those you talk to, innovate what you talk about, innovate your contribution first to your family, then to the community around you, then reach out further, and further and further…

In the end, Constant Creative Criticism and Critical Creativity are the capstones to the states of being we discussed previously. We seize the day, everyday by being Creatively Critical and Critically Creative to the world around us. We stay productive, yet producing Critically Creative things based on Creative Criticism. And we continue this Epitome for the long run by being balanced; being Creatively Critical in both work and play, and being Critically Creative while intensely focused and intensely relaxed.

I challenge you to ask yourself as I challenge myself, to see whether you are in your Epitome State of Being. Ask yourself at any and all times, whether at that moment you’re being as Critically Creative as you can possibly be in what you’re doing. Watch where staying at your epitome state of being takes you. I know for myself, Mozart, Coltrane, Einstein and Gandhi have already paved the way.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Kev's Thoughts On... The Sub-Prime Mortgage Crisis

While I do not usually post news articles on my blog, just because it would get way too cluttered, and I want to keep my blog focussed, I will at times post an article if it is really important. (For a sample of the articles I read, please go to AND/OR and check my blog there)

I recently came across an opinion piece on the sub-prime mortgage crisis in America and abroad that I totally agreed with. The article is titled The Con that Turned the World Against America. And I think that is a pretty good synopsis of the main theme and conclusion of the article about the Sub-Prime Mortgage crisis.

The article can be found at:

Have a read! It's really very good, and makes enough common sense even for those who have not heard about or do not understand what is the Sub-Prime Mortgage Crisis.