Bangkok Jazz Festival: Days 1-3
It also gave Danish singer Annekei a very hard act to follow and her soul-pop and smooth jazz seemed tame by comparison, though she gave a spirited performance, particularly given the on-going shenanigans from next door.
Her set was peppered with covers by Stevie Wonder, Antonio Carlos Jobim and the Bee Gees, but it was her own compositions which stood out and in which she expressed herself best, sitting at the piano. Strong tunes like the anthemic "Letter" and the catchy "Love to Love" with its bouncy piano riff and spare bass groove recalled Stevie Nicks at times. The former featured a tasteful solo from Jack Lee on guitar-synth, which almost inevitably conjured up Pat Metheny.
Lee, who comes from Seoul, is one of Asia's finest electric guitarists and a highlight of the set was when special guest Ulf Wakenius joined the band to trade guitar lines on a Lee-penned track.
A notable pop anthem from Annekei's album Touch (Columbia, 2009) featuring the singer on acoustic guitar concluded a very polished set, though one which from the crowd's point of view might have been better starting the evening as opposed to closing it.
One of the features of this year's Bangkok Jazz Festival is the spotlight given to young jazz talent from the city's universities. An open-air stage hosted two university bands each day although scheduling meant it was only possible to catch the first of the bands before the main program in the marquee began.
There were several noteworthy performances. Seven-piece band Fat Free from ABAC University impressed with a version of Herbie Hancock's "Maiden Voyage" and a lively rendition of Chick Corea's "Spain." Duriyaslip, a twenty-five piece big-band from Payap University played polished and assured versions of Jobim's "The Girl from Ipanema" and Juan Tizol's "Caravan."
Unfortunately the seemingly eternal political strife which plagues Thailand affected the festival, with Korean singer Youn Sun Nah and Chielli Minucci both withdrawing due to the tension surrounding the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship's planned mass rally, aimed at derailing the government. Although neither of the two performers' concerts coincided with the weekend rally, fears of disruption were not unfounded as at the tail-end of '08 thousands of protesters marched with impunity into Bangkok's International airport and camped there for a month, paralyzing air traffic.
The up-side was that the sole performer on the second night, the all-star band Soulbop co-led by trumpeter Randy Brecker and saxophonist Bill Evans (saxophone), were able to play an extended set which went down a storm with the near capacity crowd.
The band kicked off with a blazing fifteen minute blues-funk workout which set the tone for much of the set. The band is aptly named, with three ex-Miles Davis alumni in Evans, bassist Darryl Jones and guitarist Robben Ford providing plenty of bop, and guitarist Steve Lukather, who played on Michael Jackson's album Thriller (Epic, 1982) adding a touch of soul.
A long, bluesy workout reminiscent of Miles' underrated Star People (Columbia, 1983) saw terrific solos from Ford, Brecker and Evans in turn. Steve Weingart's minimalist dabs on keyboard added to the Miles-like texture of the tune.
"Big Fun" from was another high-energy funk number, peppered with hot solos. Lukather's blues-tinged "Never Walk Alone" slowed things down a little, and his emotive guitar playing demonstrated why he is one of the most recorded session guitarists ever. Evans' soprano caught the anthemic mood of this powerful number.
Robben Ford's jazz-rock song "There'll Never Be Another You" featured a fine solo from Weingart and more fire from Ford himself. "Skunk Funk," the band's encore was built around drummer Rodney Holmes and Jones who both let loose, but like the rest of the set, funk and soul were at the core of the displaybig fun indeed.
Norway's Inger Marie started off day three to a crowd of around fifty. The sight of so many empty seats can hardly have inspired the band who also had to contend with the competing music from the smaller stage less than a hundred meters away. The idea to showcase young jazz talent from the cities universities was laudable however the scheduling showed a distinct lack of foresight on the part of the festival organizers.
As a singer Marie is understated and her style intimate, her voice is perhaps best suited to the small club environment as her bass notes often fail to carry. Her slightly husky tone rarely abandoned the middle register and she led her band through a mostly slow-paced selection of introspective, blue-tinged songs. For most of the set Ulf Wakenius sat in with the band, adding a little color and occasional bite to the material.