Borneo Jazz, May 12-15, 2011
The closing act of Saturday night took the audience on another tour of the blues, this time by the veteran American roots singer Maria Muldaur. Part of the folk scene in Greenwich Village in the sixties, Muldaur formed a bluegrass band with legendary mandolin player David Grisman, and played in a jug band with singer/songwriter John Sebastian. Notable success followed in the '70s with her radio friendly "Midnight at the Oasis"a worldwide hitand during her long career Muldaur has explored jazz, rhythm-and-blues, gospel and blues. Of those early years Muldaur said: "I was following my bliss," and judging by her fired-up performance at Borneo Jazz '11, that much hasn't changed.
From Left: Maria Muldaur, Daniel Caron
For the guts of the last decade Muldaur has carved out a successful career exploring the blues. Her style is much influenced by New Orleans, with strong elements of rhythm and blues, and what Muldaur describes as "swamp funk." A major source of inspiration for Muldaur is Louisiana singer/songwriter and guitarist Memphis Minnie, who made her name in the post-Depression years. A pioneering female blues artist, Minnie was one of the first blues musicians to take up the electric guitar, and her song "When the Levee Breaks" was most famously reworked by rock band Led Zeppelin. Muldaur, like John Hammond, gets right down to the roots of the bluesfeels it in her bones.
It was with the music of singer/songwriter/pianist Mose Allison that Muldaur began her rocking set. Allison's "Your Molecular Structure" swung mightily in Muldaur's hands, and featured Christopher Burns' boogie woogie piano and a short, punchy solo from saxophonist Mary Fettig. Muldaur's bandveterans allserved her well throughout the gig, and there was plenty of room for individual expression.
Back-to-back Peggy Lee songs suggested her influence on Muldaur; the much covered "Fever" and "Everything's Movin' Too Fast." The latter owed something to the early rock 'n' roll swagger of singer Louis Jordan, with drummer Kent Bryon and bassist Ruth Davies providing the bounce: "You used to talk of rockets shooting to the moon" sang Muldaur, "I used to call you crazy but I'm taking one at noon"and this written in 1947. "One is Never Too Old to Swing"which 68-year-old Muldaur demonstrated in bucketsalso shared the same Jordan vibe.
If Muldaur's soulful delivery of Percy Mayfield's "Please Send me Someone to Love" evoked the gospel blues of singer/pianist Ray Charles it's perhaps because Mayfield wrote a number of Charles' early songs. Muldaur dubbed Mayfield "the poet laureate of the blues," and certainly his lyrics distill the essence of the human condition. Muldaur engaged in a spirited call-and-response with guitarist Daniel Caron, which thrilled the crowd.
After half a century working on her craft, few singers know how to work a crowd quite as well as Muldaur.
Up-tempo numbers by guitarist/singer BB King and singer Bessie Smith saw the band stretching out a little more, warming to the task. "Midnight at the Oasis" was rolled out and a deserved encore of singer/guitarist Wee Willie Dixon's "Wang Dang Doodle" rocked the crowd. John Hammond joined Maldaur on vocals, signaling the beginning of the traditional festival closing jam session, with practically the full cast of the festival's musicians cramming the stage in unselfconscious, rambling celebration.
At the morning Press conference, when asked had she known there was a jazz festival in Borneo, Maldaur had replied: "Hell, no," echoing the thoughts of pretty much all the musicians, who were surprised to find themselves performing in Borneo. Without exception, the musicians loved the experience, several opting to stay a few days extra to explore Borneo's stunning National Parks. A few more editions of Borneo Jazz and the same question will more likely prompt a "Hell, yes!"
Photo Credits Page 1-2: Ian Patterson Page 3, Top Photo:Sarawak Tourism Board
Page 3, Bottom Photo: Pein Lee/Sarawak Tourism Board Page 4-6, 7 (Bottom Photo): Sarawak Tourism Board Page 7: Top Photo: Graham Stephenson Page 8: Sarawak Tourism Board