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Live Reviews

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

By Published: December 21, 2011
Had there been an award for greatest instrumentalist at PIJF 2011, it might well have gone to Indonesian trumpeter Rio Sidik, who showed uncommon technical prowess and a deep knowledge of the history of his instrument. Sidik has drunk at the well of trumpeters Dizzy Gillespie
Dizzy Gillespie
Dizzy Gillespie
1917 - 1993
trumpet
, Freddie Hubbard
Freddie Hubbard
Freddie Hubbard
1938 - 2008
trumpet
, and especially Miles Davis
Miles Davis
Miles Davis
1926 - 1991
trumpet
, but there was nothing imitative about his bravura style. Sidik's quartet boasts some of the finest young musicians in Indonesia today; the interplay was tight and the soling, particularly that of pianist Erik Sondhy and bassist Ito Khudhi, was adventurous and unrestrained. A subtler side to the quartet was displayed on singer/composer Joni Mitchell
Joni Mitchell
Joni Mitchell
b.1943
vocalist
's "Both Sides Now," a balladic vehicle for Sidik's passionate vocals—part whisper, part howl. Drummer Edy Siswanto's brushes and Sondhy's light touch on the keys provided sympathetic accompaniment. Sidik's voice grew impressively and at the end, his trumpet roared towards the night sky.

An charged set concluded with the funky "Barcelonetta." A charging rhythm section and wah-wah trumpet led the way. Kudhi's lively bass solo provided a bridge to a Latin piano riff and rousing group finale. The Rio Sidik Quartet was one of the most popular bands at PIJF 2011 and clearly has the talent to make a name for itself and reach a wider audience.

Sunday's headliner and festival closer was blues singer Nina Van Horn. A tattoo of John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd as the Blues Brothers on her right bicep held, as you might hope, a story. A former biker, Van Horn met fellow two-wheel acolyte Aykroyd in New Orleans, and upon listening to Van Horn's life story Aykroyd—who once drummed behind Muddy Waters—suggested that she really should be singing the blues. A penny dropped and Van Horn has never looked back since. She has also authored a book on the early blues women, the famous and the all but forgotten from the 1920s and 1930s, inspired by their fearlessness in addressing issues such as race, violence against women, sex, and drugs

Backed by a lively band in which guitarist Masahiro Todani excelled, Van Horn poured everything into a set of originals mixed with classics penned by the likes of Taj Mahal
Taj Mahal
Taj Mahal
b.1942
guitar
, Bessie Smith
Bessie Smith
Bessie Smith
1894 - 1937
vocalist
, Ma Rainey
Ma Rainey
Ma Rainey
1886 - 1939
vocalist
. It was pioneering guitarist/singer-songwriter Memphis Minnie
Memphis Minnie
Memphis Minnie
1897 - 1973
guitar
's rocking "Down in The Alley" which got the ball rolling (Minnie also gave the world "When the Levee Breaks," covered over forty years later by Led Zeppelin). Van Horn, who makes it her mission to preserve and promote the music of lesser-known women of the blues, sang Kate McTell's "God Don't Like It," warning of the evils of Prohibition-era moonshine taking the food from the children's bellies, and Victoria Spivy's "Dope Head Blues," a fast-paced romp. Drugs were a recurrent theme of many of these women's songs, and Van Horn led an acoustic version of Lil Green's "Knocking Myself Out," which Green certainly did, dying at the age of 34 in 1954. The slow blues of Bessie Smith
Bessie Smith
Bessie Smith
1894 - 1937
vocalist
's confessional "Me and My Gin" rounded up the songs pertaining to hedonism.

Nina Van Horn

The tireless Van Horn and band gave an animated performance of singer Paul Roger's haunting tribute, "Muddy Water Blues." Van Horn's own "Sister Sister" was a tribute to her pioneering blues sisters of 80 years ago, and "Goodbye New Orleans" was a lament for those exiled from the Katrina-battered city, with Todani's ringing guitar lines burning with the energy of Irish bluesman Rory Gallagher
Rory Gallagher
Rory Gallagher
1949 - 1995
guitar
. A powerful set concluded with bassist/rhythm guitarist Marten Ingle's Bo Diddley
Bo Diddley
Bo Diddley
1928 - 2008
guitar
-inspired "Everyday" and Van Horn's lively "He's my Man," though by then, unfortunately, the crowd had largely dispersed, and only true blues lovers remained to shake their booties, blissfully unperturbed by the light rain.

PIJF 2011 was the perfect illustration of jazz's inclusiveness and its pan-global nature. Jazz numbers were sung in English, Malay, French and Portuguese. American musicians played with Korean, Indian with Austrian, Indonesian with Malaysian, and Japanese with Dutch. Jazz journalists came from four continents. The widening of jazz's sources of inspiration was also clearly in evidence; the Great American Songbook was of course present, but inspiration was also drawn from David Bowie, Radiohead, Paul Simon
Paul Simon
Paul Simon
b.1941
composer/conductor
, Tina Turner, Joni Mitchell
Joni Mitchell
Joni Mitchell
b.1943
vocalist
, Weather Report
Weather Report
Weather Report

band/orchestra
and Sonic Youth. Jazz's deepest roots, in the form of the blues and ragtime, were on display and so too were more recent additions to the family such as art-rock/pop, electronica, and even punk. Jazz, it has to be said, has never been fussy about its bedfellows, and the PIJF 2011 succeeded in representing jazz in all its forms, warts and all.


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