Jazz Festivals in Hong Kong have, until recently, had a checkered history. The very first Hong Kong Jazz Festival was held in 1987 and was an import of the Japanese-sponsored Live Under the Sky series of concerts which, on any given night, would throw up trumpeter Miles Davis
Arkestra on the same spangled-costumed bill. The Hong Kong Jazz Festival lasted five years before folding, a victim of the Japanese economic downturn of '92. Just a couple of years later, the two-day Hong Kong International Jazz and Blues Festival was born, organized by the Hong Kong Jazz Club, but unfortunately it failed to attract sponsors and died at birth, after just one edition.
That was it for the next decade, until the Hong Kong Jazz Association ran a three-day festival in 2005. About 10,000 people turned out to watch mostly Asian groupsa notable successthough it would be another three years before Hong Kong would host a jazz festival again. In 2008, with the all-important support of private investors, the enthusiasts of the Hong Kong Jazz Association launched the Hong Kong International Jazz Festival, and in some style. The event ran for seven days across Hong Kong, in major concert halls as well as clubs. This format has proven to be successful, and continues to this day. The HKIJF is in better health than ever for its fourth edition in 2011; in addition to private sponsorship, it received the support of the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority, perhaps in recognition of the importance of cultural events in promoting tourism, as Hong Kong aims to situate itself as the events capital of Asia.
For this edition, the 2011 HKIJF has grown to eight days, and featured over 40 performances from 300 musicians. With a lineup including guitarists Kurt Rosenwinkel
Trio, plus the latest piano trio sensation, Rosconi, HKIJF can certainly claim to be a modern-thinking festival. But in addition to a nicely varied musical program featuring artists from Cuba, France, Denmark, Belgium, Holland, Malaysia, Brazil and the Czech Republic, there were also a number of exciting Chinese groups, both from Hong Kong and mainland China.
The first day featured five free concerts in the fantastic setting of the amphitheater in the Piazza of the Hong Kong Cultural Centre, facing the emblematic skyline of Hong Kong Island. The view behind the stage was entertainment in itself, with boats of all shapes and sizes passing up and down the stretch of water against the backdrop of the towering Hong Kong Island skyline; and tugboats pulling barges laden with cargo containers bound for the port, where mounds of similar red and blue containers formed a symmetrical landscape of town-like proportions. Launches, police boats, giant crane barges, oceangoing ships, tourist cruisers, small, ugly mutts and the city's last remaining junk made their respective ways hither and thither. Cloud-choked skies did their best to dampen the occasion, but in spite of intermittent rain showers throughout the afternoon and early evening, the enthusiastic crowd simply put up its umbrellas and kept on cheering.
The festival officially got under way with the arrival of the 30-strong Pegasus Vanguard Marching Band and, after a series of brief speeches from major sponsors, the stage was given over to the Wilson Lam Trio (right). A jazz guitarist of the old school, Lam's economical style comes from a line which echoes Jim Hall
. With bassist Chan Kam Ming and drummer Anna Fan providing a solid, alert rhythm section, the trio ran through a mid-tempo set comprised largely of covers. The slow-paced opener had a gently swinging groove, and it was immediately apparent that Lam is a technically impressive guitarist with a keen ear for melody and an advanced harmonic sensibility.
Throughout the set, the music climbed slowly but surely to little climaxes, to then scale slowly down the reverse slope, seducing the audience as opposed to attempting a knockout blow. Lam's solos were engaging though never flashy, and there was lyricism in abundance in his playing. A reasonably faithful interpretation of Metheny's "Bright Size Life" saw Lam unleashing fluid, melodic lines, and Miles Davis
' "Solar" was the perfect set-closer, the trio giving a personal, clearly heartfelt interpretation. Lam may not be Hong Kong's most internationally visible guitaristthat accolade belongs to Eugene Paobut with a bit of support he clearly has the talent to go a long way,