Penang Island Jazz Festival: Penang, Malaysia, Dec 1-4, 2011
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 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, 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 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, bassist Gary Peacock and pianist Paul Bley, performed in a duo with fearless improvisational pianist Craig Taborn 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 riffsnotably on "Kaiser Joe"defined the shape of the music as much as Honing's instantly recognizable sound.