Thailand International Jazz Conference, January 28-30, 2011
On each of the three days the workshops/talks were broken up by a midday performance at the outdoor Oval Stage, which has the form and ambience of a small amphitheater. First up was the RMS Summit, which brought together three jazz instructors from three of the main universities in Bangkok offering jazz programs: keyboardist Teerapoj Plitakul, from Mahidol University; guitarist Changton Kunjara, from Rangsit University; and drummer Lester C. Esteban from Silpakorn University gave an impressive performance, with Khun Plitakul drawing Herbie Hancock-inspired sounds from his Minimoog and Nord C3 organ, and Khun Kunjara executing bluesy lines. The trio was joined by guitarist Ron Cole, who displayed notable chops. The second group, Jazz Dojo, followed a more traditional line, playing the late saxophonist James Moody's "Check Out" and trombonist J.J. Johnson's "Lament" with assurance. Polwit Opapant impressed on saxophone and drummer Estaban played a quieter, more supportive role than he had for the RSM Summit. The one original, "Sundance," by guitarist Frank Raksakun, was a melodic, funk-based number and it rounded off a polished set.
With forty minutes between the end of the workshops in the afternoon and the beginning of the Main Stage evening program there was an opportunity to grab a bite to eat or visit the stalls selling gleaming saxophones and handsome guitars. For those with lighter wallets there were also stalls selling CDs. The TIJC is concentrated in a small area and conference goers could shuffle between the three performance areas in no time at all. The main stage is set in a tree-lined grass enclosure and with lights falling on the water of the nearby moat it makes for a very pleasant setting in which to listen to live music.
The opening band on the main stage was the Rangsit University Jazz Orchestra. This large ensemble can lay claim to being the first jazz big-band in Asia to be conducted by Maria Schneider. The composer/arranger spent a week at Rangsit University in October '10, rehearsing her charts for a week with the orchestra before leading a concert which made a huge impression on the orchestra members. Needless to say, Schneider's music featured in the set list, a fine version of "My Lament," alongside John Coltrane's "Traneing In" and guitarist Pat Metheny's "First Circle." The orchestra was anchored by a strong rhythm section and there were some impressive solos, notably from fluent pianist Sopon Suwannakit, and Spanish tenor saxophonist Jose Perez who displayed measured, confident phrasing.
Anything other than a set of originals from an instructor who teaches jazz composition and arranging at Mahidol, as well as piano, would have been odd, but leader Mario Monti first recorded his own material in '97 and, based on the evidence of this performance, the Swiss pianist is clearly a composer worthy of attention. He led his sextet through five original compositions of some diversity, ranging from the post-bop energy of "Comprovisation" and the gently swinging "Cyclic" to the walking-bass driven numbers "Salavat" and "Metamorphosis." The common denominator in the compositions was the tightly woven frontline of trumpet, alto saxophone and trombone, or combinations thereof. Rustem Galiulin's glowing trumpet was framed by riffing sax and trombone and made for an attractive arrangement on a slow-paced number, while Annawin Kerdteesud's saxophone swapped roles with the trumpet, altering the texture of the arrangement nicely. Succinct solos from all were out of the top drawer and the sextet bowed out in style with a grooving, New Orleans/blues-edged number reminiscent of Herbie Hancock.
The Denny Euprasert Quintet gave a lesson in variation of pace, dynamics and ambience in an entertaining set which kicked off with a hugely energetic version of Chick Corea's "Inner Space." Teerus Laoverapanich on saxophone, Changton Kunjara on guitar and the leader on piano all excelled in their respective solo parts. Given the high level of musicianship on display it was no surprise to learn that the quintet members have played with the likes of saxophonist Benny Golson, guitarist Mike Stern and bassist Chris Minh Doky. Euprasert's finesse on the keys on the balladic "Ira" was a highlight of the set, though his rousing extended solo on the Latin-tinged closing number, with drummer Napat Piryakitsarun rising to the occasion, was equally absorbing.