Hong Kong International Jazz Festival, Days 1-3, September 25-27, 2011
Next up was Trio D'en from France. Formed in 2003, the three musicians have played with some of France's historic jazz figures such as reed players Michel Portal and Louis Sclavis. Whilst the trio exhibited an undoubtedly strong grounding in the jazz tradition, it veered towards free/avant exploration at times, without sacrificing melody or rhythm. The trio stumbled out of the blocks with an improvisation-cum-sound check, which saw tenor saxophonist Arnaud Rouanet unfurl knotty yet rousing lines in a dialogue with drummer Yoann Scheidt, as pianist/keyboardist Samuel Bourille fine-tuned the piano's wiring.
Rouanet and Scheidt found a groove and milked it, with Scheidt vocalizing the motif. Bourille's tuning rather seamlessly became one with the improvisation, his heavy piano chords adding rhythmic weight before the others dropped out, leaving him to solo. Alternating between light and heavy touch, Bourille built an elegiac and hypnotic groove. Rouanet rejoined, first on tenor and then on clarinet, accompanied by Scheidt on trombone. Rouanet and Bourille engaged in a delicate exchange, with the clarinet evoking a Turkish melancholy. This episodic opener was an appetizer for the trio's unorthodox, inventive approach to music.
Rouanet used to perform with Graphiosea band dedicated to the music of guitarist/composer Frank Zappaand, perhaps unsurprisingly, there was an element of the theatrical about the performance. On a piece called "Down Frisell!," dedicated to guitarist Bill Frisell, Rouanet used various objects for their sound effectsa metronome and, rather more effectively, a small loudspeaker and a number of small pots and pans used as percussive instruments combined with electronic keyboard distortions which sang like guitar feedback. Rouanet's tenor sidled up slowly and moodily, and in truth, there was a brooding quality to the composition which recalled the mood of Frisell's Blues Dream (Nonesuch, 2001).
The closing number began with the trio leading the audience through a tricky hand-clapping rhythm (which few mastered) to the sounds of Rouanet improvising through his mini-loudspeaker; his improvisation sounded like a cross between the ranting of a good old-fashioned dictator, an opera diva and bird song, and it was curiously engrossing. From there to a delightful Brazilian samba groove emanating from keyboards, with Scheidt laying down a light but driving rhythm, Rouanet took an extended, dancing saxophone solo which was part Gato Barbieri and part Manu Dibango. A lively percussive give-and-take between Rouanet and Scheidtemploying mallets on the potsgained the audience's approval and crowned a hugely enjoyable and equally impressive set.
From left: Oscar Lorient Vedey, Alexander Rodriguez Cala
Cuba's Estudiantina Ensemble was formed by singer/guitarist Ricardo "Aristides" Bekema with the aim of preserving the danzón music of Santiago de Cuba, with roots dating back to the 19th century. This seven-piece band gave an energetic performance which didn't quite manage to blow away the rain that was falling steadily, but the audience didn't seem to mind and gave enthusiastic support to these veteran musicians. Led by the charismatic Oscar Lorient Vedey, the band, which consisted of two guitars, bass, trumpet and percussion, played a feisty set which scored points with the audience for "Historia de un Amor," "Ya No Estas a Mi Lado" and Mexican pianist/songwriter Consuelo Velázquez's eternal classic, "Besame Mucho."
The Aseana Percussion Unit, aka APU, has been going since 1998, and has grown from its original four members to its present incarnation of ten. Although the band has only recorded two CDs in that time, it as performed at some of the most prestigious music festivals throughout the region, including the Rainforest Music Festival in Borneo. Hailing from Malaysia, the different ethnic backgrounds of its members is reflected in the wide range of instruments employed. Malay, Indian and Chinese percussion instruments, traditional bass and drum kit combined with keyboards, fiddle, congas, shakers, djembe, surdo and saxophone, all in a swirling, heady cocktail which won huge approval from the audience.