Hong Kong International Jazz Festival, Days 7-8, October 1-2, 2011
Although most of the songs were from the trios' debut release, Saiyuki (Act, 2009), the show began with the unreleased "Magic Constant," which served as an appetizer for what was to come. Zither, tabla and guitar weaved in and out of each other's slipstream in a beautifully conversant meeting between east and west Asia. Although the electric guitar is hardly synonymous with Asian culture, Le's singing lines contained the unmistakable tonalities of his Vietnamese roots. The striking curves of Le's guitarspecially designed by his luthierare inspired by Chinese calligraphy.
The wonderfully upbeat "Sangam" and the konnakol-led "Sweet Ganesh" brought to mind the spirit of guitarist John McLaughlin's Shakti/Remember Shakti groups, with Prabhu leading the crowd step-by-step through rudimentary konnakol, to everyone's delight. Miyazaki's beguiled on the former, constantly moving the bridges on her zither and bending the strings to produce a cascade of beautiful sounds. Le, a sensitive accompanist, coaxed Indian colors from his strings as Prabhu's lyrics spoke of the joy of playing music for and with each other. As all three musicians stretched out, a strong wind blew dry ice around the musicians, creating the illusion that this music was indeed, from the heavens.
The Miyazaki composition, "Izanagi Izanami"as related by Miyazaki tells the story of the creation of a god, and Miyazaki and Prabhu exchanged vocals which represented seemed to represent lovers' coupling. Miyazaki's voice, rising in pitch and strength had an orgasmic quality. I asked her after the show if this was the case: "Maybe." She said. "Maybe?' I asked. "'Maybe' in Japanese means 'yes'" she replied, laughing. All the while a storm was brewing, which although not of typhoon proportions, nevertheless added to the intensity of the performance. Nguyen Le's Saiyuki gave an electrifying performance at the Hong Kong International Jazz Festival and one can only hope that this singular, genre-defying trio will continue on its musical quest for a long time to come.
Conguero Poncho Sanchez's Latin jazz ensemble paid tribute to two of the founders of the genre, trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie and conguero Chano Pozo. A Sanchez original, "El Conguero" opened the set in buoyant style, with the leader raising a sweat and trumpeter Ron Francis Blake unleashing a flurry of hot notes in a rousing ensemble descargar. "Psychedelic Blues" was dedicated to another Latin giant of percussion, the late Willie Bobo, with Ron Hardt impressing on a muscular tenor saxophone solo. This number segued into "Guajira" and this time solo space was filled by trombonist Francisco Torres.
Guest trumpeter Terence Blanchard let rip with a pulsating solo on the first Pozo/Gillespie number of the set, "Guachi Guaro." Two more Gillespie classics, "Con Alma" and "Groovin' High" were featured, with Joey De Leon, Jr.'s bongo solo on the former complementing the conga's rhythms in swinging style. For sheer excitement, however, the exhilarating call-and-response exchange between trumpeters Blanchard and Blake at the end of the setagainst a backdrop of the National Day fireworks displayhad the crowd roaring its approval. There was however, the feeling that the band was only really getting into its stride by the end of the set.