Niu's 1st International Bangkok Jazz Festival, Dec. 11-12, 2009
One of the great things about Chris Potter's Underground is its openness to all musical influences. The band is as much informed by electronic, hip-hop and pop music as it is by jazz. This lack of musical boundaries infuses the music with the sound of surprise; Duke Ellington's ballad "The Single Petal on a Rose" from "The Queen's Suite" from '59, and Radiohead's lyrically violent "Morning Bell" from 2000 were united by a lyricism in the collaborative playing which transcended both time and genre.
The Adam Roger's tune "Rumples" from Underground's Ultrahang(ArtistShare,2009) was a vehicle for extended soloing from Rogers and Smith, and by the time Potter leapt into the fray the band was flying, driven by the dynamo of a rhythm section.
The encore of "Morning Bell" slowed things down a little. Roger's quiet ruminations on guitar, Smith's employment of one brush and one stick and Colley's gentle bass pulse set the tone for some relaxed blowing from Potter. The meditative Thom Yorke number ebbed and flowed and served as a beautiful closing statement from a truly wonderful band.
The final word at Niu's 1st International Bangkok Jazz Festival went to bassist Richard Bonaand his band. Like Potter, Bona enjoys a reputation as one of the world's leading instrumentalists, yet perhaps surprisingly this was a show which lacked the expected individual brilliance, particularly from Bona himself.
Instead, Bona seemed content to lead the ensemble through a set of harmonically and melodically arresting compositions whose flavor reflected the Cameroonian's tenure in the bands of Joe Zawinul, Manu Dibango and Pat Methenyoriginal and subtle, tuneful and groove- based for sure, but perhaps for some tastes lacking a little the individual stamp of the musicians' personalities on the music.
A beautiful keyboard passage from Etienne Stadwijk ushered in Bona's soulful voice on "Te Misea." Bona has spent much of his career as a sideman, which has tended to overshadow his own music and especially his wonderful voice.
Bona is also a fine arranger and created pretty harmonies by matching guitarist Jean-Cristophe Mailard from Guadalupe and New York trumpeter Mike Rodriguez. Trombonist Marshall Gilkes joined Rodriguez to make a small but potent brass section and they fused to great effect on the melodious "Kalabancoro" and the irresistibly funky pop tune "Please Don't Stop" which featured a soaring heavy metal solo from Mailard.
Oddly, the show only featured a couple of tracks from Bona's The Ten Shades of Blue(Wrasse Records, 2009), the delicate ballad "M'bemba Mama"which featured tasteful piano and bass, the brushes of Calvaire and understated brass, and the Indian-influenced "Shiva Mantra." The latter song was given a slight Balkan flavor by the brass section.
Bona is most often compared to bass legend Jaco Pastorius and the in truth there's not much light between them. Bona's tribute to Pastorius began with an infectious take on the departed legend's "Liberty City," with Rodriguez and Gilkes recreating something of the intensity of Pastorius's big band version.
Guitar and 'bone cut short but telling solos prior to a powerful ensemble passage which paid tribute to Weather Report with a snatch of "Birdland," a keyboard solo which was strongly evocative of Joe Zawinul and the bass line to Zawilnul's "Black Market" from the seminal album of the same name. Bona, much to the crowd's delight, let go on his most expansive solo of the set.
A delightful solo vocal spot from Bona saw him layering harmonies via a foot pedal to create an African choral piece of real beauty. The set wound up with a couple of danceable salsa-infused pieces;"O Sen Sen Sen" featured nice turns from Gilkes and Rodriguez and rather sheepish crowd participation, and "Djombwe" which threw up some serious funk. Bona and friends were called back for an encore and played an out-and- out salsa piece which stirred the crowd to get up and dance.
The unselfconscious mixture of jazz, pop, African rhythms and tight ensemble playing that characterized the music of Weather Report is close to the core of Bona's musical philosophy. Individual ego is largely suppressed to serve the cause of the ensemble's sound and without this discipline the music wouldn't be nearly as effective. This was a powerful performance with soul and groove in equal measure.
It was a brave venture to start a jazz festival in Bangkok in the current economic climate. If Joachim Schulz can find the support to match his own enthusiasm then there is every chance that Niu's Bangkok Jazz Festival will become a much needed annual fixture in the Bangkok calendar.
Courtesy of Niu's on Silom