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Live Reviews

Penang Island Jazz Festival: Penang, Malaysia, Dec 1-4, 2011

By Published: December 21, 2011
The Espen Eriksen Trio—the first of the festival's two Norwegian bands—gave a memorable concert which showcased its fine debut recording, You Had Me At Goodbye (Rune Grammafon, 2010). Opening with the appropriately named "Anthem," which was elegant and quietly epic, the trio's combination of melody and quiet dynamism provided one of the festival's most striking performances. The trio's compositions were short in duration, for the most part, but the narratives wrapped themselves around telling melodies in direct fashion, especially on the lyrical "Grinde," which featured tasteful solos from pianist Eriksen and bassist Lars Tomod Jenset.

At times, the legacy of pianist Esbjorn Svensson
Esbjorn Svensson
Esbjorn Svensson
1964 - 2008
piano
could be felt in the handclaps, pianism and bass arco, but on the whole Espen's voice leaned closer to that of pianist Tord Gustavsen
Tord Gustavsen
Tord Gustavsen
b.1970
piano
and his gospel-tinged blues, particularly on the lovely chilled groove of "On the Jar." However, the contrast between the songs' delicate architecture and the propulsive quality that coursed through the music—typified by drummer Andreas Bye's dynamic brush work— set the trio apart from its contemporaries. The Espen Eriksen Trio possesses an original voice.

Espen proved skilled at slowly ratcheting up the tension, as drawn-out bass ostinatos and driving rhythms provided the base for the leader's high-end swirls and light-as-air flourishes, which gathered an inevitable momentum. Dynamism contrasted with moody, arco-led passages, and when all three joined to take the music up a gear there was an effortless power. Tina Turner's "We Don't Need Another Hero" (written by Terry Britten and Graham Lyle) was given an understated delivery, with the melody carried by Espen against lovely bass counterpoint and brushes. The performance climaxed with the more urgent "Masaka Tsara," a slightly funky number where groove, for once, trumped melody. The Espen Eriksen Trio showed that spare playing doesn't preclude virtuosity, and that a quiet aesthetic doesn't automatically dismiss dynamism.

From left: Robert Pawlik, Michaela Rabitsch

Guitar, trumpet and tabla provided an altogether different trio experience as the Michaela Rabitsch
Michaela Rabitsch
Michaela Rabitsch
b.1963
trumpet
and Robert Pawlik
Robert Pawlik
Robert Pawlik
b.1965
guitar
Trio delivered a musical fiesta rich in its diversity of rhythmic and melodic influences. Trumpeter, vocalist and composer Rabitsch and fellow Austrian, guitarist/composer Pawlik, have played together for over a dozen years, and, adding a touch of spice to their pot, were joined by Indian tabla player Vinayek Netke. Jazzy guitar, muted trumpet and percolating rhythms colored much of the music, and Rabitsch's warm vocals, strong, open trumpet lines and scatting added breadth and muscle to the mix.

Several songs were presented from Rabitsch and Pawlik's third CD, Moods (Extraplatte, 2008); the swinging "In Silent Moments," the breezy "Afrika"—with Pawlik's guitar bringing the flavor of West Africa to his strings—and the snappy "Tren Numero 1," inspired by a 20-hour train journey from Havana to Santiago de Cuba. Rabitsch's sunny, wordless vocal fused with Pawlik in seamless unison on "Afrika," which also featured a blistering tabla solo from Netke. Rabitsch's versatility on trumpet and vocals was seen throughout the concert in her command of different idioms. Whether swinging on "A Walk in the Sun," gliding through the easy-listening "In the First Days of Springtime" or beguiling with the ballad "The Long Road," Rabitsch's virtuosity was evident, and the trio's intuitive understanding apparent. The moods and rhythms of Africa, India, and the Americas infused this upbeat groove music and charmed the Penang crowd.

JiYoung Lee

The PIJF's close association with the Jarasum International Jazz Festival in Korea has meant that Korean jazz artists have consistently played here over the years. For the 8th edition of PIJF, pianist Jiyoung Lee led her talented quartet through a set of mainstream, post-bop oriented jazz. Like so many Asian pianists, Lee is classically trained, but she also boasts a notable jazz pedigree, having toured for a year with Canadian trumpeter/bandleader Maynard Ferguson
Maynard Ferguson
Maynard Ferguson
1928 - 2006
trumpet
's nine-piece Big Bop Nouveau Band. The performance took material from her second CD as leader, Closer to You (Vitamin Entertainment, 2010).


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