Penang Island Jazz Festival: Penang, Malaysia, Dec 1-4, 2011
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 Aykroydwho once drummed behind Muddy Waterssuggested 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, Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey. It was pioneering guitarist/singer-songwriter Memphis Minnie'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'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. A powerful set concluded with bassist/rhythm guitarist Marten Ingle's Bo Diddley-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, Tina Turner, Joni Mitchell, Weather Report 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.