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Live Reviews

Miri International Jazz Festival, May 14-15, Malaysia, Borneo

By Published: June 3, 2010

This latter tune with Spanish vein was a highlight of the set and put the spotlight on Figarova whose cascading runs and imaginative ideas were absorbing. The closing number again featured a beautiful flute solo from Platteau and full blooded sparring between the muted trumpet of Hammes and the guttural tenor of Mueller. Like Japanese pianist Eri Yamamoto

Eri Yamamoto
Eri Yamamoto

, Figarova's compositions are inspired by the everyday experiences that make up her life. Her music is her stories, and that is the very essence of jazz.

Violinist Ricardo Herz, a graduate of Berklee and former student of Didier Lockwood brought the sounds of Brazil to MIJF '10; his quartet merged choro, samba, and folk rhythms in a melodious and rhythmically dynamic set. Luque Silva's seven string guitar added bottom end to the bass of Meno Del Picchia on bass, while Ito Pedro on a conventional drum kit provided the drive which sparked Herz's improvisations.

The music was above all highly melodic and swung in a way that only Brazilian music can. Herz (on right) is a lively performer, seemingly dancing with his instrument in close embrace, and a wonderful technician to boot. At its most animated the music bore resemblance to jigs and reels though there were quieter pieces and his balladic duet with Luque on seven-string guitar bore a beautiful melancholy.

The violin is an instrument which perhaps more than others is able to imitate the human voice and Herz's lyrical playing suggested that most of the songs in the set originally had words, though he didn't introduce any of the songs other than to say: 'this is a choro from Rio.' Herz's solo spot, with only bass drum for support, saw him looping layer upon layer of riffs and short flowing bursts over which he improvised in lively manner. Elsewhere he demonstrated his versatility by setting aside his bow and plucking his strings as though it were a mandolin. Herz however, has no need of special effects or gimmickry, for the band's sound is captivating enough and his swinging, folk edged playing a delight.

The final concert of MIJF '10 was blues legend James 'Superharp' Cotton and his blues band. The band minus Cotton warmed up the crowd with two tunes which set the mood for the rest of the evening: a funky version of "Let the Good Times Roll" and a slow burning "How Blue Can you Get?" Were Thomas Holland merely a vocalist he would hold his place in any blues band, but he's also a top notch guitarist with an exciting, sharp attack which cries one minute and whispers the next, drawing clear inspiration from BB King. Bassist Noel Neal took a technically impressive solo on the former and drummer Kenny Ray Neal and Harrison Allen on additional guitar also stretched out early on.

Cotton entered the stage to an introduction from Holland that would have done a Las Vegas boxing emcee proud. Showing his seventy five years as he shuffled slowly onto the stage, the years fell away once the harp was in his mouth. On the slow number which followed Cotton's warm tone and full sound was heard to great effect; long, mournful notes filled the night air and a repeated motif which he sustained for a full minute stirred the crowd.

The music alternated between fast and slow numbers, with Cotton playing mostly a rhythmic role on the faster tunes. His harp found more room for expression when the tempo slowed and he revived the eternal spirit of Sonny Boy Williamson and Sonny Terry on "That's Alright" with an extended solo that demonstrated that few notes can be emotionally charged. But even when Cotton was only jamming unobtrusively along with the band when it was in full flow the crowd was swept up in the spirit of the blues and moved to the music with obvious delight.

A bouncing version of "Got My Mojo Working," featured a call-and-response between Holland and the crowd, which no doubt left some a little hoarse. Cotton played the refrain for a few more bars and seemed content to jam along indefinitely to the clapping of the crowd, but the curtain fell as it must, and he exited the stage to warm applause as the band played him off in style. The crowd brought him back on for one more number, a fast-paced blues workout with everyone taking a final bow.

James Cotton

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