Pipa Potluck – Lutes Around the World

Gao Hong and Friends

Innova 916


Here in Minnesota we love to invite friends over for a potluck meal, where every guest brings his or her favorite dish to pass. The dishes are often distinctive and have personal stories to go along with them; eaten together they make a rich occasion that gives meaning to the word ‘community.’ In this recording project I was lucky enough to invite over incredible artists from different cultures and musical backgrounds, and together we made something more delicious than any of us could have done by ourselves. With the exception of Golden Season and Green Willow Tree which I composed myself, the pieces on this album are the result of master artists bringing their lifetime of talents to my kitchen and seeing what we could cook up together. Through a delicate balance of artistry we made pan-global music on the first take with each of our lute-related instruments shining through. While we delight in the blend, we don’t think of this as a fusion or a brown stew that smothers each of our identities. Rather this is spontaneous chamber music for a hungry and wide new world.

- Gao Hong, Northfield, Minnesota


Gao Hong, pipa (1)

George Kahumoku, Jr., slack key guitar (2)

Alison Brown, banjo (3)

Darol Anger, fiddle (4)

Matt Combs, fiddle (5)

Garry West, bass (6)

Yair Dalal, oud (7)

Bassam Saba, oud (8)

Dror Sinai, percussion (9)

April Centrone, percussion (10)

Jeffrey Van, guitar (11)


1. Cluck Old Hen (2:53)

1,3,5,6. (Traditional Bluegrass)


2. Friendship (5:11)

1,7,9. (Gao/Dalal)


3. Golden Season (7:51)

1,11. (Gao)


4. Mosquito Song (4:00)

1,2. (Kahumoku/Gao)


5. Sally Johnson (3:01)

1,3,5,6. (Traditional Bluegrass)


6. The Source of the Spring Water (5:33)

1,2. (Kahumoku/Gao)


7. Longa Nahawand (7:14)

1,8,10. (Jamil Bey Tambouri, arr. Saba)


8. Green Willow Tree (6:11)

1,3,4,6. (Gao)


9. Lutes Around The World (8:17)

1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 10, 11(Gao/Brown/Saba/Anger/Kahumoku/Van).





Gao Hong: chinesepipa.com

George Kahumoku, Jr.: kahumoku.com

Alison Brown and Garry West: compassrecords.com/alison-brown

Darol Anger: darolanger.com

Matt Combs: mattcombs.com

Yair Dalal: yairdalal.com

Bassam Saba: bassamsaba.com

Dror Sinai: drorsinai.com

April Centrone: aprilcentrone.com

Jeffrey Van: morningstarmusic.com/composers-van.cfm




Special thanks to all the wonderful musicians who opened their hearts and made my dream come true; The Sorel Organization, Judy Cope, Exec. Director; Carleton College Communications Office and Joe Hargis, Associate Vice President for External Relations/Director of College Communications; International Friendship Through Performing Arts, Paul Dice, President.

Made possible by a grant from The Sorel Organization.


Produced by Gao Hong. Cover design by Jonathon L. Reese.

Tracks 4,7,8, and 9 recorded live in concert, St. Catherine’s Univ., St. Paul, 2012

Mixed and mastered by Steve Kaul at Wild Sound Studios, Minneapolis.

Recording engineers: Don Onsgard, Paul Bernhardt, and Justin Francis.

Innova is supported by the McKnight Foundation.

Philip Blackburn, director, design

Chris Campbell, operations director

Steve McPherson, publicist


Innova is supported by an endowment from the McKnight Foundation.

Philip Blackburn, director, design

Chris Campbell, operations director

Steve McPherson, publicist


Also by Gao Hong on innova:

Quiet Forest, Flowing Stream (240)

Flying Dragon (595)



Gao Hong

Pipa master and composer Gao Hong began her career as a professional musician at age 12. She graduated from the Central Conservatory of Music, Beijing, where she studied with the great Lin Shicheng. In both China and the U.S. Gao has received numerous top awards and honors. She is the only musician in any genre to win four McKnight Fellowships for Performing Musicians and was the first musician to win a Bush Fellowship for Traditional and Folk Arts. Other awards include 1st Prize in the Hebei Professional Young Music Performers Competition, an International Art Cup in Beijing, a 2012 Global Music Award, and prestigious fellowships from the Jerome Foundation and the Minnesota State Arts Board. Gao has performed throughout Europe, Australia, Japan, Hong Kong, China, and the U.S. in solo concerts and with symphony orchestras, jazz musicians, and musicians from other cultures. Her performances of pipa concerti include several world, U.S., and regional premieres and performances with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, Pasadena Symphony, Heidelberg (Germany) Philharmonic, and Louisville Orchestra among others. She also toured with the Lincoln Center production of “The Peony Pavilion.” 
As a composer, she has received commissions from the American Composers Forum, Walker Art Center, the Jerome Foundation, Zeitgeist, Ragamala, Theater Mu, Minneapolis Guitar Quartet, Lars Hannibal, and Twin Cities Public TV. She is currently on the music faculty of Carleton College where she teaches Chinese instruments and directs the Chinese music ensemble and is a Guest Professor at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing.


Alison Brown  

Alison Brown has taken an unlikely path in establishing herself as an internationally recognized banjoist.  A former investment banker (she has a bachelor's degree in History and Literature from Harvard and an MBA from UCLA), she toured with Alison Krauss and Union Station and Michelle Shocked before forming her own group, The Alison Brown Quartet.  She has recorded 10 critically-acclaimed solo albums, received 4 Grammy nominations, a Grammy award and the Banjo Player of the Year award from the International Bluegrass Music Association. Alison has been featured on CBS Sunday Morning, NPR's All Things Considered and in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times.  She was personally requested to play at the inauguration of Harvard’s first female president, Drew Faust, and was the 2007 recipient of Irish America Magazine’s “Stars of the South Award” for Compass Records’ efforts towards the “cultivation and preservation of Irish music.” In 2011 she was selected by the Mayor of Nashville to serve as the Ambassador of Friendship to initiate a sister city relationship with Kamakura, Japan and in the fall of that year embarked on a six city tour of Japan with performances including Kamakura, Tokyo, Osaka and The Country Gold Festival. Alison is also co-founder of the internationally recognized Compass Records Group which oversees more than 600 releases from the Compass Records, Green Linnet and Mulligan Records catalogs and which has been called by Billboard Magazine “one of the greatest independent labels of the last decade.” In addition, she currently serves on the board of the Nashville Chamber of Commerce and the International Bluegrass Music Association as well as on the adjunct faculty of Vanderbilt’s Blair School of Music. Alison lives in Nashville with her husband Garry West and their 2 children:  Hannah and Brendan.


George Kahumoku Jr. 

There’s a reason he’s been called Hawaii’s Renaissance man: George Kahumoku Jr. is a four-time Grammy Award & multiple Hoku Award winning master slack key guitarist, ukulele player, songwriter, world-traveling performer, high school and college teacher, artist and sculptor, storyteller and writer. In February of 2006, George and fellow slack key artists and producers were thrilled to receive the 48th Grammy Award for Best Hawaiian Album for their compilation recording, Masters of Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar, Vol. 1: Live in Concert from Maui. But George’s Grammy fame doesn’t stop there: The sequels to this recording, Legends of Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar: Live from Maui which includes additional artists (Dennis Kamakahi, Martin Pahinui, and Richard Ho’opi’i) won the 49th Grammy and then in 2008, Treasures of Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar won the 50th Grammy Award. In 2009, The Spirit of Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar was an honored Grammy nominee and the compilation. Masters of Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar, Vol.2 was released. All of these recordings are compilations from George’s weekly Wednesday night show, the prestigious Masters of Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar Concert Series at the Napili Kai Beach Resort on Maui. George is the musical host and features a different solo artist each week. This is the first long-running concert hall setting in Hawaii created to feature the great slack key performers of today. 
         George has also played slack key guitar in several documentary films about the music and cultural richness of the Hawaiian Islands, including the soundtrack for the 1993 film ‘Onipa’a (Kalama Productions), which chronicles the Hawaiian sovereignty movement. Playing several of Lili`uokalani's songs in the film inspired George to release his first instrumental solo album, E Lili’u


Yair Dalal

Yair Dalal, composer, violinist, oud player singer and a teacher; A prolific ethnic musician, plays an important role in shaping the global world music scene. Over the last decade he has put 12 albums, covering wide and varied cultural territory, and authentically representing Israeli , Jewish and Middle Eastern cultures and fusing them through music as whole.

Much of Dalal’s work reflects his extensive musical skills in both classical-European, Jazz and Arabic music and also reflects a strong affinity he has for the desert and its habitants. Dalal’s family came to Israel from Baghdad and his Iraqi roots are embedded in his musical work. Whether working on his own, or with his Alol ensemble, Dalal creates new Middle Eastern music by interweaving the traditions of Iraqi and Jewish Arabic music with a range of influences originating from such diverse cultural milieus as the Balkans to India. The evocative compositions comprise a unique and colorful sound.

Apart from creating music, Dalal devotes his time to preserving musical heritages from becoming extinct - the Babylonian Jewish Iraqi musical heritage and the music of the Bedouins (the Sinai desert nomads).

During the years Dalal performed in concerts and festivals worldwide including major venues such as New York Carnegie hall and Lincoln center , Womad festivals from England to Australia and New Zealand as well as in a humble authentic nomads desert tent .


Bassam Saba 

Bassam Saba of Lebanon is a world-renowned virtuoso, multi-instrumentalist and leading figure of Arabic music, performing on the nay (Arabic end-blown reed flute), oud (Middle-Eastern lute), saz (Turkish long-necked lute), western flute, and violin. Saba studied at the Lebanon National Conservatory, the Conservatoire Municipal des Gobelins in Paris, and the Gnessin Musical Pedagogical Institute in Moscow. Saba toured extensively with Arab icons Fairouz and Marcel Khalife and worked with Ziad Rahbani, Wadi‘ El-Safi, Majida El-Roumi and Taoufiq Farroukh. He has collaborated with classical and pop stars Sting, Yo-Yo Ma, Alicia Keys and Santana, and jazz icons Herbie Hancock and Quincy Jones, among others. One of the most sought-after teachers of Arabic music, Saba co-founded and directs the 35-piece New York Arabic Orchestra and leads lectures and workshops around the world. Saba currently performs with Daniel Schnyder's Nay Concerto, Simon Shaheen and Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble. As a soloist, Saba has performed with philharmonics worldwide and has toured throughout the world. In 2010, Saba released his album of all-original music, Wonderful Land.
Jeffrey Van


Guitarist and composer Jeffrey Van has premiered over 50 works for guitar, including Dominick Argento's Letters from Composers, five concertos, and a broad variety of chamber music.  He has performed in Carnegie Hall, London's Wigmore Hall, and the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, and as part of Duologue, with flutist Susan Morris De Jong, premiered and recorded commissioned works from more than a dozen composers, including Stephen Paulus, Roberto Sierra, Tania Leon, Michael Daugherty, Libby Larsen and William Bolcom.  He is a founding member of The Hill House Chamber Players, now in their 26th season.  He has been featured on many NPR broadcasts, made several solo and ensemble recordings, and appeared on ten recordings with the Dale Warland Singers.  A recording of his Reflexiones Concertantes (Concerto for Two Guitars and Chamber Orchestra) has been released on the Centaur label.
Van has performed and taught master classes throughout the United States, and earned a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Minnesota School of Music, where he recently retired as a lecturer in classical guitar.  Former students include Sharon Isbin, John Holmquist, and members of the Minneapolis Guitar Quartet.   Mr. Van's compositions include works for guitar, guitar and violin, guitar and flute, chorus, chamber ensemble, and vocal solo.


Darol Anger

Fiddler Darol Anger has helped drive the evolution of the contemporary string band through his involvement with numerous path breaking ensembles such as his Kozmik Trio, The Republic Of Strings, the Turtle Island String Quartet, the David Grisman Quintet, Montreux, Psychograss, the Duo and other ensembles. Today Darol can be heard on the Sim City soundtracks and on NPR's "Car Talk" theme every week, along with Earl Scruggs, David Grisman and Tony Rice.  In addition to performing all over the world since 1977, he has recorded and produced scores of important recordings, is a MacDowell and UCross Fellow, and has received numerous composers’ residencies and grants. He has been a featured soloist on dozens of recordings and motion picture soundtracks. He is an Associate Professor at the prestigious Berklee School of Music and recently began an ambitious online Fiddle School at ArtistWorks.com.



Matt Combs

Matt Combs is a versatile performer, instrumentalist, writer, producer, and teacher who has been living and working in Nashville, Tennessee, since 1997. Primarily known for his fiddling, Matt has worked with some of the best names in country, bluegrass, and old-time music—including John Hartford, Jerry Douglas, Patty Loveless, Suzy Bogguss, Maura O'Connell, John Oates, Mike Snider, Ray Price, Kevin Costner, Charlie Daniels, Jimmy Martin, Marty Stuart, Uncle Josh Graves, Kenny Baker, The Indigo Girls, Norman and Nancy Blake, and Doc Watson. He has also performed with The Nashville Mandolin Ensemble, The Tennessee Mafia Jug Band, The Nashville Bluegrass Band, The Nashville Chamber Orchestra, and the Nashville Opera. In addition, he has played on the Grand Ole Opry over 200 times, has appeared on Throwdown with Bobby Flay on the Food Network, on documentaries on PBS, on CMT and GAC, and most recently on The Marty Stuart Show on RFD-TV.

In 1997, Matt received his Bachelor of Music degree from the University of Michigan in violin performance, where he studied with Paul Kantor. Matt’s deep understanding of music and his cross-over abilities have led him to his current position as the Head of the Fiddle Department at Vanderbilt’s Blair School of Music. For several years, Matt has also been an instructor at Mark O’Connor’s Fiddle Camp, at The International Fiddle School, and has lead clinics at The New England Conservatory, Wichita State University, and other middle schools, high schools and colleges. Also, since 2006, Matt has presented educational seminars in conjunction with the Nashville Symphony and the Country Music Hall of Fame, entitled “Is It Fiddle or Violin?” In addition to his teaching, Matt leads his own string band, performs with the Nashville Mandolin Ensemble, and often performs with Grand Ole Opry member, Mike Snider. He also fronts “The Driven Bow”, a nine-piece fiddle ensemble including some of Nashville’s finest fiddlers. Matt also maintains an active recording schedule—lending his talents on fiddle, mandolin, old time banjo, and guitar to numerous recording projects.



Dror Sinai

Dror Sinai is an international performer, educator, and performing artist, as well as the Founder of Rhythm Fusion, Inc. in Santa Cruz, California. In 2002, he received the Gail Rich award for supporting the arts, and is a founding member of the World Music Committee for the Percussive Arts Society. Dror has performed as a solo artist and has appeared in ensembles of many different musical styles, with other talented artists, including Yair Dalal, Omar Faruk Tekbilek, Yuval Ron, Alessandra BelloniDror has presented lectures, clinics, and workshops to diverse audiences, including Universities, schools, community gatherings, adults and children, and has taught both professionals and amateurs; he has been a featured instructor for Spectra of the Santa Cruz Arts Council, and at clinics during PASIC (Percussive Arts Society International Convention). Has been working for world peace as a way of life and taught and performed on the “Peace Boat” as well as at The World Sacred Music Festival, Fes, Morocco ’09 with The Yuval Ron ensemble. 


April Centrone

Accompanying Bassam Saba is April Centrone, one of the leading classical Arabic and world percussionists in America. She has performed with renowned Arab artists such as Marcel Khalife, Bassam Saba and Najib Shaheen. On drum set and world
percussion, she has shared the stage with a variety of rock, jazz and avant-garde artists including Primus (Les Claypool), Mike Patton, Secret Chiefs 3 (Trey Spruance), Trevor Dunn, and Eyvind Kang, among others. Centrone has performed in venues such as Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center and has toured throughout the U.S., Europe, Taiwan, South America, and New Zealand. She was a featured soloist with the East Oakland Bay Symphony and Christian Jarvi’s Absolute Ensemble. Centrone is the executive director, co-founder, and lead percussionist of the New York Arabic Orchestra.  As an educator,
Centrone was a teaching artist and consultant for Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Connect, and serves as Musicians For Harmony’s Lead Teaching Artist, where she directs Music of the World for youth and teens. Centrone leads lecture/demonstrations and workshops in Arabic music at universities around the U.S. and abroad.


Garry West    

Garry was raised in Atlanta and began his musical studies at age 11.  After attending the Berklee School of Music in Boston, Garry moved to Nashville and toured with country artist Patty Loveless before signing on with rhythm and blues legend Delbert McClinton and folk/pop songstress Michelle Shocked. In addition to his work as a bassist, Garry is also a busy producer, most recently producing releases from Paul Brady, The Waifs, Catie Curtis and Alison Brown.  He has been featured in numerous publications including Bass Player Magazine, Billboard Magazine and Mix Magazine. In addition to his work as a bassist and producer, Garry is also the director of A&R for Compass Records, the independent record label which he and Alison co-founded. 




World-class Chinese pipa player and composer Gao Hong headlines a star-studded CD featuring two Grammy-winning performers, one of the nation’s foremost authorities on Arabic music, and performances on six members of the lute family of musical instruments. On one CD, you can experience powerful groundbreaking collaborations inspired by five world traditions. Since immigrating to the U.S. 20 years ago, Gao Hong has found that her cross-cultural collaborations both enlighten and inspire her. She gathers with musicians from a wide variety of cultures, and together they open their hearts and minds to see what delicacies they can cook up. Joining Gao Hong is 4-time Grammy winner George Kahumoku, Jr. from Hawaii on slack key guitar; Grammy-winning banjo player Alison Brown - accompanied by fiddlers Darol Anger and Matt Combs, and bassist Garry West; Arabic and Iraqi Jewish oud master Yair Dalal and Lebanese-born oud master Bassam Saba, accompanied by Arabic percussionists extraordinaire, Dror Sinai and April Centrone; and classical guitar legend Jeffrey Van.