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Live Reviews

Hong Kong International Jazz Festival, Days 1-3, September 25-27, 2011

By Published: October 4, 2011
"World Dance Rhythm" which opened the set, was aptly titled, as in the first thirty seconds of the number the audience was transported from China, via Chen Kam Chien's keening suona—a double-reed wind instrument with a flaring bell—to the Australian outback with a touch of didgeridoo—and, improbably, to the Celtic corner of northern Europe, as Sanjiv Daevin took a Scotts-Irish sounding fiddle turn, with the reed and wind section providing a bagpipe-type drone. All the while, bassist Jude Fernandez Theodore Fernandez and drummer Edwin Nathaniel kept a tremendously funky groove going. An interlude of konnakol from tabla player Kirubakaran led into sax and Chinese flutes, and by then the pot was well and truly boiling.

Foreground from left: Sanjiv Daevin, David Victor

Vocalist Sirisena David Victor was an energetic and charismatic front man who never stopped dancing throughout the set. His swinging rendition of "Caravan," by Puerto Rican trombonist/composer Juan Tizol
Juan Tizol
Juan Tizol
1900 - 1984
, was a set highlight. At one point, Victor extracted saxophone-like sounds from a simple hair comb—which, on the evidence of his shiny dome, he had evidently borrowed. "Quando Quando Quando," which segued into trumpeter Louis Armstrong
Louis Armstrong
Louis Armstrong
1901 - 1971
's "Wonderful World," was also a crowd pleaser. Now resident in Hong Kong, former APU member Jaggu joined the band onstage to rekindle old flames and led the ensemble through some lively Punjabi rap. The vibrant set concluded with "Malaysian Rainbow," from Colours of Rhythms (Capricorn Connection, 2002), which featured a yearning Indian vocal intro and a rousing finale, with all ten musicians in a row, pounding out rhythms on a variety of instruments for all they were worth.

The final performance on the first day of the Hong Kong International Jazz Festival was Beijing funk/electronic outfit Gao Hong Zhang & Acid Live. It is however, no easy task to hang a name on its eclectic fare. A funk rhythm section of bassist Liu Zang and drummer Da Wei kept a steady groove, with Zang particularly dynamic. Keyboardist Zhang Zhang was impressive, laying down dark, funky sounds inspired by '60s electro funk-rock. Guitarist Wen Xiang also impressed with his flowing jazz lines and irresistible funk riffs. Extra sonic and visual effects were added by DJ Christopher Cook and VJ Chew Weng Yeow, though the video screen was a tad small to really create much of an impression for the slowly changing images.

The not-so-secret weapon of the band was vocalist Gao Hong Zhang. Dressed in an ankle-length, one-piece animal fur coat, and with large, hooped earrings hanging from the ears of his cue-ball head, he looked as if he had just come off the set of the Japanese television series The Water Margin and still had the smell of blood in his nostrils. Singing in Cantonese, Zhang's incredibly powerful—and quite soulful—vocals and his beguiling stage presence as an ancient warrior brought another dimension to the music entirely. Innovative and tremendously funky, the modern urban aesthetic of Acid Jazz went hand-in-hand with roots music, which like so much music, essentially stems from blues.

Day two of the Hong Kong International Jazz Festival began with the first of a series of presentations entitled "In Dialogue with Jazz," held in the Tom Lee Academy Hall. The opening talk, delivered in Cantonese by Hong Kong International Jazz Festival Director Peter Lee, was simply titled Jazz Appreciation, and provided a potted history of the development of jazz in the United States of America, with analysis of the musical components of jazz. Lee has been a tireless advocate and promoter of jazz in Hong Kong and regionally for many years, and through the Hong Kong Jazz Association has also held numerous workshop, course and Artists-in-Residency programs. Lee describes the HKJA as "a bunch of dreamers," yet the throwaway comment cannot disguise the fact that the dream has become a reality—and one that is gaining increasing currency as an important part of Hong Kong's cultural panorama.

The evening concert was performed by the Simin Tander Quartet, in the delightful inner courtyard garden of Vibes, a very hip Hong Kong destination in the luxurious Myra Hotel. Tander, of German-Afghan background, is a relative newcomer to the international jazz scene, though already she seems to be making some waves. Backed by a tight trio of drummer Etienne Nillesen, bassist Conrad Heineking and pianist Lucas Leidinger, Tander delivered a captivating set which drew from her impressive debut, Wagma (Neu Klang, 2011).

Tander opened the set with the title track, an atmospheric number sung in Pashtu, with Tander's gently seductive melody gradually gaining in potency, the piano maintaining a motif while Nillsesn roamed freely, sounding damped cymbal shots here and there to great effect.

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