Soulful, skilful, silky smooth sex appeal saturates every second of this genre bending R&B fusion EP. Drawing influence from his Asian heritage and masterfully mixing it into the soul music and influence he has grown up with, Jiexi Zhao has created a truly unique masterpiece that globetrots all around the world as easily as its funk fuelled fingers navigate the fret board.
‘Be Yourself‘ announces itself and the EP with the Asian influence in the gong percussion as well as the exotically enchanting pluck of the strings. This merges effortlessly into the bubbling bass and grooving clap of the drums. When the vocals kick in we get the first taste of just how accomplished and confident a musician Zhao is crooning out a sultry verse that oozes itself into every crack and crevice filling out the sound.
It would be impossible to avoid drawing comparisons to the late great Prince. The track draws on varied influences to build a soundscape that is electrically charged with passionate and masterful instrumentation. The EP starts off with an infectious energy that pours out of the speaker and straight into the listeners feet, trying not to dance along to this is an effort in futility.
Lyrically the song invites the listener to look inside themselves to find the things that make them unique or “weird”. It speaks of Zhao‘s experience as an Asian musician in the industry and his reticence in releasing this beautiful fusion music at all. It is a universal message and one that connects with a powerful and poetic truth.
With ‘How Does It Feel‘ we are introduced to a more firm and typical R&B sound, it is a love song that kicks out a funky strut at the call of its slapping bass to get your butt shaking in the chorus. The Asian influence is a little less obviously pronounced but still adds a distinct flavour to the track with the haunting refrain of the bow and strings.
The song sings the narrative of an old flame moving on to a new lover, it is not possessive or bitter but rather celebrates the love shared and hopes that the new love is as pure, honest, and consuming. Towards the end of the song there is an instrumental break that brings in the shredding and tear soaked solo summoned up on the electric guitar, again we can see the silhouette of Prince landing a dizzying flourished spin in the subtle but genuine heartfelt emotion of the strings.
The production throughout the EP is masterful, every track and soundscape is beautifully built with an orchestra of different lines and instruments. The introduction and treatment of the Asian instruments in particular is a thing of beauty. They hold righteous and respectful presence in the mix as they should and add so much in terms of creativity and uniqueness to the sound.
The EP finishes with ‘Vintage Lover‘ which is an obvious evolution and progression from what came before. While the other two tracks have strong sex appeal, this one positively smoulders with smooth groove kisses all along the listeners ear. It has an irresistible groove that shakes its hip to the beat with a cheeky hand clap added in for style.
Zhao has a voice that could melt ice, warm whispers with just enough spice in the right places to tickle and tease. He explores the upper and lower end at different points on the EP not to show off, but rather to give each track its due passion and poetry. He can belt as easy as croon and listening to how easily he shapeshifts his style to deliver what each song needs is awe inspiring.
This EP is exciting, it’s enticing, it’s exotic, it’s erotic, and every energetic track is charged and chiselled with the intent of getting you dancing. Fusing the Asian influence and instrumentation into the R&B soul sound makes so much sense that it’s truly stupefying that it hasn’t been done so skilfully before.
Words by Matt Miles.