Miri International Jazz Festival, May 14-15, Malaysia, Borneo
Next up was Swiss guitarist Jeremy Tordjman. He has played with African musicians for over ten years and lists his influences as jazz, rock, pop, soul, funk, hip-hop and electronica. With such an all-encompassing outlook on music, an eclectic set would have come as no surprise, but instead Tordjman led his electric trio through a straight ahead set with real teeth. His musical roots may burrow all the way down to Jimi Hendrix, but this is music very much of the present, much in the same way that Wayne Krantz's trio with Keith Carlock and Tim Lefebvre is inspired by the great electric trios of the past while remaining utterly contemporary. Tordjman's playing draws less from the blues well than Hendrix but has a serious dose of funk and rock.
For fans of guitar virtuosity this show was a real treat, with Tordjman taking solo after ripping solo. Tordjman is, however, an inherently sensitive musician: there was plenty of light and shade in his solos and in the collective playing of the trio. Drummer Robert Julliard provided an uncluttered, driving backbeat, and Marco Panzarella's grooving bass lines shot up your legs and hit the liver. This was an energized and engaging performance.
"Nostalgia of the Future" may have reached a powerful conclusion, but the journey proved one of gradual build up and increasing tension in the playing. Memorable motifs colored all the compositions and, although Tordjman's solos were extended, they were never repetitive nor felt overly long, testament to his creativity and musicianship.
In between sets Australian DJ BeBe spun groove and funk- laced tunes in the pavilion adjacent to the stage. The pavilion formerly housed the main stage of MIJF and can hold several thousand people. The world dance rhythms were infectious, but the excessive lighting brought out the inhibitions of most of the adults, leaving the floor open to the unselfconscious free-style exhibitions of the children in tow. Relocating the music to an outdoor stage has been a wise move from the festival organizers as there was no comparison between the superb quality of the sound system outside and the slightly dampened, muddy sound inside the pavilion.
One of the obvious crowd-pleasers of MIJF was Norbert Susemihl's New Orleans All Stars, which had the crowd swaying, stomping and dancing throughout the concert to New Orleans classics old and new. Susemihl, a one-time resident of New Orleans, brought this band together especially for the festival and it had only one hour-long rehearsal the day prior to the concert. There were no signs of unfamiliarity among the musicians nor of jet lag following a grueling, circuitous fifty four-hour trip door to door due to the volcanic ash from Iceland. On the contrary, the band and the audience thrived on each other's energy.
The front line of Charles Halloran on trombone, Orange Kjellin on clarinet and Susemihl on trumpet and vocals combined beautifully on "The New Orleans Hop Stop Blues," weaving rich harmonies and powerful unison lines. Kjellin and Susemihl in particular impressed as soloists, though Susemihl's vocals lacked the strength and color of his trumpet playing. The tempo was mostly upbeat, and on "Lover Come Back to Me" Susemihl and bassist Kerry Lewis both soloed with a measure of abandon.
Lewis before the gig recounted for this reviewer how he had been in exile from New Orleans for three years in the wake of the devastating Hurricane Katrina and spoke of the sense of abandonment that he and many others felt by the then Bush administration. However, although administrations, hurricanes and volcanoes do their damndest, they cannot dim the passion of musicians for this music; Lewis's playing was vital and soulful, epitomizing the regenerating power of jazzthe "life force" of this music, as Nat Hentoff calls it.
"Sweet Emma," the Nat Adderleytune inspired by Emma Barrett's playing/singing at Preservation Hall in the '60s which so impressed the trumpeter, featured eloquent statements from Susemihl and pianist Georg Hawks on a slower number which provided welcome contrast to the mostly fast-paced set. At whatever tempo the band played at, from the calypso-flavored "Cuban Pete" to the Porter Steel song "High Society" (popularized by Alphonse Picou before its revival in the 1956 Crosby-Sinatra MGM musical) all the way up to "Happy Feet Blues" by Wynton Marsalis, the music swung. The set closed with another old favorite, the funeral celebration "Didn't He Ramble" and the encore, Fats Domino's "I'm Walking," rounded things off in style with the crowd showing warm appreciation for this timeless music.