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Live Reviews

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

By Published: December 21, 2011
Honing has always been a thoughtful interpreter, and David Bowie's 1969 pop anthem "Space Oddity" provided the perfect vehicle for Wired Paradise's particular fusion—slow and melodic, intense and free-spirited. Honing's best solo of the evening came on "Tensing Norgay," a seductive, ambient composition with a reggae-ish groove. In full flow, notes tumbled and tore from Honing's tenor with a tremendous sense of purpose, and it was easy to see how the man from The Times got so excited about the saxophonist's sound. The traditional set closer, "Wild is the Wind," rocked for three powerful minutes—another anthemic shout—as though Bowie had joined King Crimson for an encore. Talking with members of the audience over the weekend, it was clear that Yuri Honing's Wired Paradise was the most challenging band of PIJF 2011 for the majority of the crowd, but it's unlikely that this will worry Honing, who continues to pursue a very personal, exciting musical path.

Saturday night headliners Shakatak had drawn a large crowd to the Jazz By The Beach stage, with a good number of folks making the four-hour trip by car from Kuala Lumpur to see the British jazz-funk legends. The band enjoyed its hit-making heyday in the eighties, at a time when a hit single shifted huge numbers, and although it has never stopped recording—unlike a host of bands who stagger on endlessly, exploiting the nostalgia circuit—the crowd expected to hear Shakatak's greatest hits. The band duly delivered, and for a little more than an hour, founding members keyboardist Bill Sharpe, lead vocalist/percussionist/flautist Jill Saward, drummer Roger Odell and bassist George Anderson gave a rousing performance which had people up and dancing.

What was quite amazing was the oft-repeated comment from crowd members after the show: "I didn't know I knew all of their songs." Shakatak has topped pop and jazz charts around the world during its thirty year career, and there can hardly be anybody of a certain age who isn't familiar with songs like the infectious jazz-funk classic "Night Birds," the sing-along "Day by Day," the sunny flute motif of "Invitation," or the disco-funk of "Down on the Street." Musically, the band was tight, and guitarist Alan Wormald and backing vocalist/saxophonist Jacqui Hicks brought additional energy to a vibrant set. Shakatak has three decades plus under its belt; it still has the chops and certainly has the grooves. If these musicians continue to enjoy themselves and give joy at the same time, there's no reason at all why they can't continue for a couple decades more. Shakatak, big crowd hit of the PIJF 2011.

Bill Sharpe, Shakatak

With the usual array of activities going on around the music, such as musicians' workshops, presentations, music showcases, and the aforementioned Island Jazz Forum, it was difficult to take in all the fringe stages, particularly the G-Spot Hotel, which was a forty-minute drive downtown. However, with the bands rotating through the venues, it was possible to catch most of the 15 Malaysian-fringe stage bands over the weekend at the Bayview Hotel or the Hard Rock Hotel next door. As in previous years there was a dearth of jazz on the fringe program, but it's hard to criticize the festival's promotion and support of local musicians of whatever musical genre. Two bands, however, stood out. Cats in Love—a retro hard rock band—fairly shook up the Bayview lobby with its guitar-driven energy, and Elixir captivated the small audience with an acoustic set which mixed folk and country flavors into its jazz stock. Vocalist Gina Mojina impressed with her sense of time and natural swing, and worked a little bit of magic on Hank Williams' "Cold, Cold Heart."

The Jazz Gallery, which displays jazz photography, posters and prints, is another aspect of the festival which is growing in importance. World-renowned British photographer William Ellis's work was presented in 2009, and this year the gallery presented the work of another internationally recognized photographer, Ziga Koritnik. Hailing from Ljubljana-Slovenia, Koritnik's captive eyes have been recording snapshots of jazz history for twenty-five years. Since 1996, Koritnik has been the resident photographer at the Skopje Jazz Festival in Macedonia. All the photographs in this article were taken by Koritnik, and it's easy to see why the festival has held onto his services for the past fifteen years, or why his photos regularly grace the pages of the world's leading jazz magazines. Koritnik has a book of his photos due for publication next year, and All About Jazz will be conducting an in-depth interview with the artist. For those curious to see more of Koritnik's photos, follow this video link to his current exhibition.

Amir Youssof


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