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Live Reviews

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

By Published: December 21, 2011
An original take on pianist/composer Scott Joplin
Scott Joplin
Scott Joplin
1868 - 1917
piano
's "Maple Leaf Rag" was a fine introduction to Lee's skills, as strong left hand chords cut through dancing right-hand bop figures; rag-time for the 21st century. The hymnal "Closer to You" was the second trio piece of the set, with bassist Choi Eun-Chang and drummer Chris Varga injecting drive into the play. Saxophonist Dai Kyun Im's arrival made up the quartet, which launched into Paul McCartney
Paul McCartney
Paul McCartney
b.1942
composer/conductor
's "Let it Be." Growing from a gently mellifluous beginning, Im took command of the tune, serving up an impressively constructed solo whose improvisations never overpowered the song's melody.

These musicians have played together in each others' bands for at least half a decade, with a resulting chemistry that allows for tight interplay and a nicely loose sense of freedom. This tight-but-loose delivery imbued a funky new, and as yet untitled, R&B number. This sax-driven and grooving vehicle allowed Lee to indulge herself a little, unfolding a solo which was equal parts Ray Charles
Ray Charles
Ray Charles
1930 - 2004
piano
gospel-blues and hard bop. Rarely predictable, Lee's more exuberant runs up and down the keys were always aware of melody. In the passages where she played solo, a ruminative, neo-classical air colored her explorations, though she was clearly steeped in the blues. The quartet enjoyed itself on the up-tempo tune "I'm Just Having Fun," with Lee and Im stretching out. On the set closer, the Jimmy Van Heusen/Johnny Burke classic "It Could Happen to You," the exchange between pianist and saxophonist was engrossing. Lee's language seemed to reference pianist Ahmad Jamal
Ahmad Jamal
Ahmad Jamal
b.1930
piano
, who recorded the tune fifty-plus years ago. However, as with Joplin's ragtime which started the set, even a WW II-era Van Heusen/Burke chestnut sounded freshly minted in the hands of Lee's impressive quartet.

From mainstream jazz to...well, Yuri Honing
Yuri Honing
Yuri Honing

sax, tenor
Wired Paradise. The name of saxophonist Honing's band suggests something out of the ordinary, and it would indeed be folly to try and hang a name on its music. Suffice it to say, elements of alternative pop, punk rock and subtle psychedelic vibes nest together, though Honing is essentially a bop-inspired musician. Described by The Times of London as "one of the most fearless and creative saxophonists of the moment," Honing has never shied away from a challenge; he has recorded the music of classical composer Franz Schubert with pianist Nora Mulder, collaborated with Vince Mendoza and the 51-piece Metropole Orchestra, cut mainstream jazz with heavyweights like drummer Paul Motian
Paul Motian
Paul Motian
1931 - 2011
drums
, bassist Gary Peacock
Gary Peacock
Gary Peacock
b.1935
bass
and pianist Paul Bley
Paul Bley
Paul Bley
b.1932
piano
, performed in a duo with fearless improvisational pianist Craig Taborn
Craig Taborn
Craig Taborn
b.1970
keyboard
and with classical Indian musicians.

From left: Stef van Es, Yuri Honing

For the last year and a half, Wired Paradise has been touring extensively to promote the excellent live recording White Tiger (Jazz in Motion Records, 2010) and its show in Penang showcased the music inspired by Indian author Aravind Adiga's Booker Prize-winning novel, The White Tiger (2008). The slow anthem, "Zitelle," opened the show with a drone underpinning a dub-like groove from drummer Joost Lijbaart and bassist Mark Haanstra. Honing's piercing tone soared and spiraled hypnotically, and guitarist Stef Van Es cut a jagged, bluesy solo on this slow-burning epic.

The band was minus second guitarist Kesuke Matsuro, and although the intensity of the music never dipped, Matsuro's voice, and the extra dimension that two guitarists of contrasting style had brought to the band was definitely missing. However, even as a quartet there was no escaping the power of the Iggy Pop-inspired "Meet Your Demons," a barreling, punk-meets-bebop explosion. Haanstra's bass comes more from rock and pop than jazz and his steady beats and churning riffs—notably on "Kaiser Joe"—defined the shape of the music as much as Honing's instantly recognizable sound.


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