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Live Reviews

Bangkok Jazz Festival 2006

By Published: January 1, 2007

The surprise package of the day and indeed the entire festival was Jazz Kamikaze, a group of twenty-something musicians from Scandinavia who were the winners of the Young Nordic Jazz Contest 2005. They blew everyone away with their high energy, high decibel performance. Imagine Acoustic Ladyland meets EST and you will have some idea of what this band sounded like.

Marius Neset's tenor sax and Daniel Davidsen's guitar screamed together on "Rastapopoulos while Kristor Brodsgaard's bass and Anton Eger's drums drove the music at a furious pace. Their set consisted of originals except for Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit. There is more, however, to this band than bombast, as seen on pianist Morten Schantz's melancholic "Gina" and the encore "Until The Sun Comes," a slow- building epic of tremendous grandeur. Jazz Kamikaze seemed to enjoy their performance as much as the audience did. A talented group of musicians that seems poised for great things in the near future.

After the sonic assault of Jazz Kamikaze, Lisa Ono's brand of gentle bossa nova and country tunes was like bathing in warm milk. A trio of bossa nova classics opened the set, followed by "Country Road (almost as much an anthem in Thailand as "Hotel California ), "Jambalya," "C'est Si Bon and the encore "Girl From Ipanema. A set largely devoid of surprise, or even a shift in gears, nevertheless delighting the partisan crowd.

What's in a name? Evidently little, as twenty five years later the Yellowjackets are playing to appreciative audiences all over the world, having moreover just released their twentieth album.

On Saturday night Bangkok was treated to nearly two hours of fine musicianship from the headliners. Bassist Jimmy Haslip excelled throughout the course of the evening, particularly on "Out Of Town and the classic "Jacketown. Bob Mintzer, who has done as much as either pianist Russell Ferrante or Haslip to shape the direction and define the sound of the band over the last fifteen years, drew huge applause, whether on tenor sax or EW1. Drummer Marcus Baylor played probably the best drum solo of the entire weekend on "Out Of Town and impressed during the concert for his drive and precision.

Individually, the four members of the Yellowjackets are outstanding musicians, but the real strength of the band is in their collective playing, honed to perfection after so many years playing together. The band encored with the feel-good "Revelation, sending the crowd home happy. Here's to another twenty-five years.

The final day didn't quite live up to the previous two. Guitarist Jiraphan Ansvananda, a veteran of the Thai music scene, veered towards the type of pop so loved in Thailand. And despite some fine guitar work, and an appearance by Koh Mr. Saxman, who displayed his chops on a couple of numbers, the concert was an anti-climax after the fireworks of Hiromi on day one and the east-west fusion triumph of Asia Beat Project on day two.

The festival organizers should be encouraged to include Thai jazz talent, of which there is plenty, and it might have been a productive idea to present the winners of the previous week's national Jazz Talent competition if only to give them the type of exposure and jump-start which a festival like this can.

For guitar aficionados, the Asia Super Guitar Project did not disappoint. Eugene Pao from Hong Kong, Jack Lee from South Korea, and Kazumi Watanabe from Japan represent the cream of Asia's guitarists. Three electric guitars might sound like a recipe for a sonic nightmare, but they managed not to get in each other's way and varied the pace and intensity of the set very expressively.

Astor Piazzola's "Libertango was a highlight of the show, and Watanabe's original "Azimuth, on which he soloed in wild and very personal fashion, demonstrated why he is so highly regarded throughout Asia.

Dave Grusin doesn't tour much these days so for his loyal fan-base in Thailand it was a treat to see him playing in a trio context. After a dancing version of "Autumn Leaves he was joined by Lee Ritenour, and the two-some played the catchy "South West Passage. A couple of Antonio Carlos Jobim tracks, "Double Rainbow and "Stoneflower, were impressive, featuring solos by both the pianist and guitarist.

Grusin then slowed things down with a solo piano recital based on music from his soundtrack to the film "Milagros Beanfield Wars," centering on three Spanish-flavored pieces, all lyrical and slightly melancholic. The enjoyable set concluded with Grusin's classic "Mountain Dance from 1978 and the funky "Serengeti Walk.

After a short interval the 4th Bangkok Jazz Festival concluded with an all-star jam led by Grusin, Ritenour and Bob Mintzer from the Yellowjackets.

In hindsight, the festival was well organized and well run. Turn-around between bands was fast, and the facilities within the grounds were excellent. Special mention should be made of the lighting company, Auvi Craft Co. Ltd, whose illuminations only added to the luster of the festival.

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