Borneo Jazz 2012
The Pointer Sisters' 1973 hit "Yes We Can Can"with Katrina Debus stealing vocal honorsand Al Jarreau's 1983 hit "Boogie Down" provided a dose of serious funk for the ages, with the latter segueing into Kool and the Gang's 1973 hit "Jungle Boogie," carrying the band and the crowd out on a high. The sheer fun factor in SLIXS'live performance belied the seriousness of its art. Who needs instruments to rock the joint?
Friday's closing act, the New Cool Collective gave, arguably, the standout performance of Borneo Jazz 2012. A pity then, that the majority of the crows skedaddled before the band came on, leaving just a few hundred to witness what was undoubtedly one of the best concerts in the festival's seven-year history. Founder/saxophonist Benjamin Herman was gracious in his thanks to those in the crowd who had stayed the course, but the scant crowd begs the question, what on earth was more enticing in Miri at 11 0'clcock on a Friday night?
It's been a long, strange trip since New Cool Collective started out playing live with DJs in 1993. Since then, this eight-piece, little-big band has succeeded like few other in drawing crowds on the international club scene, playing at the biggest European pop 'n' rock festivals, collaborating with Afro-beat drumming legend Tony Allen, and earning jazz kudos in the bargain. Mambo-ish vibes and disco-funk cool worthy of Boney M rubbed shoulders with Jamaican ska, salsa and Afro-Caribbean flavors. Succinct yet cutting solos peppered the set, with insistent rhythmic groovesboth hot and chilledunderpinning everything.
"Frankie & Grace," from Eighteen (Dox Records, 2011) was typical of the band's chameleon nature, moving from dance-floor funk to ska, while maintaining a chill-out groove. "Jules"named after Rotterdam poet Jules Deeldersounded like a modern Dizzy Gillespie big-band, with guitarist Anton Goudsmit carving out Marc Ribot-ish lines over a pulsating percussion foundation. Harmonized African harmonies, cracking conguero and timbale rhythms, unison trumpet and saxophone lines, all colored the penultimate number. Deep grooves, Afro-Caribbean chants, and short, yet cutting solos from Herman, keyboardist Willem Friede, drummer Joost Kroom and Goudsmit rounded off a memorable set in some style.
In festival terms, seven years is still young. Borneo Jazz, like any other festival, is still finding what works and what doesn't work quite so well. Tweaks and modifications are inevitable from one edition to another and are part of the process of forging a lasting identity. In 2011 the introduction of workshops in the festival grounds and one other venue in Miri announced the intention to provide educational outreach to the Miri public.
Unfortunately, this worthwhile initiative was canned this year. Perhaps the endeavor had been considered unsuccessful in light of the fact that practically the only people in attendance had been members of the media corps, but if that's the case, then the festival organizers are giving up before they've truly started. On Wednesday before Borneo Jazz had begun, SLIXS gave a private performance to 1,200 children at the Riam Road Secondary School, along with performances by the school Marching Band and cheer leaders, plus a choir singing German folk songs. The mini-festival was in honor of guest Dr. Guenther Gruber, the German Ambassador to Malaysia who was visiting from Kuala Lumpur. By all accounts, the event was a riot of fun and good music, and resulted in a goodly number of the school children attending the jazz festival on Friday and mobbing SLIXS like rock stars after its concert.
It would be fairly simple in principle for Borneo Jazz to invite music students from Miri's schools and universities to attend and participate in music workshops. From schools and college campuses to upscale hotels, there is no shortage of venues. The chance for youngsters to sit in with professional musicians could only be inspiring. No doubt, many would be motivated to attend the festival, and the accumulative effect would be a large dose of freeand enduringpublicity for Borneo Jazz.