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Live Reviews

Borneo Jazz 2012

By Published: May 29, 2012
A successful addition to this year's edition of Borneo Jazz was the early afternoon performance on both days of a local marching band. The Chung Hwa Miri Marching Band has enjoyed international success, winning a marching-band competition in Italy in 2011 against bands from over 20 countries. Normally comprised of 80 musicians and 20 dancers, the ensemble was reduced to 50 for the two performances, which ran through compositions from musicals and popular music. The musicians—ranging in age from 12 to 18—were obviously enjoying the occasion, swaying to the rhythms, chanting and clapping. At its best, the music evoked the exotic sounds of Duke Ellington
Duke Ellington
Duke Ellington
1899 - 1974
's suites, but this performance was all about fun and the joy and playing, with swinging renditions of Beatles and Abba songs too.

The musicians are highly dedicated to the cause, practicing every day from 6:30 a.m. to 7:00 a.m. before school, and again in the afternoon from 2:30-4:30 p.m. every day. The only break in this routine is on Sundays and at Chinese New Year. With that kind of dedication, any success the band enjoys is fully merited. Seventeen-year-old saxophonist Elvin Sim took an impressive solo on the infectious "Cha Cha Flamenco." He has been playing saxophone for just five years but already shows great maturity on his instrument.

The section playing was tight and disciplined, and although the odd mistake slipped out, such imperfections are tolerated as a natural result of playing for fun. The performances were warmly received by a small-but-enthusiastic crowd. Hopefully, such performances will become an annual feature of Borneo Jazz. Every opportunity should be afforded these youngsters, as many of the musicians—like the talented Elvin Sim—will be forming their own bands in the future, and with luck, performing on the main stage at future editions of Borneo Jazz.

Saturday evening got rolling with the festival's only straight-ahead jazz band, Tropic Green from Singapore, led by pianist/composer Susan Harmer. Keeping a seven-piece jazz band together in Singapore is something of a success story in itself. The four-pronged front-line of trombone, tenor and alto saxophones plus trumpet lay at the heart of Harmer's original compositions. Her skillful arrangements created a beautiful group voice while allowing the individual musician to shine.

Short-ish pieces varied stylistically, from the gently lyrical "Little Bird" and more up-tempo numbers like "Flight," to swinging Latin jazz. Harmer showed touches of fluidity on piano, but she's a composer, arranger, director, and pianist—in that order. Her role was that of accompanist, knocking out great vamps as on the grooving "Camelia," and generally steering the band. The crowd was treated to a slice of Cubana-bop on "Patter" when drummer Pablo Morales was joined on stage by his father, Mario, a veteran percussionist in the Parisian Cabaret in the National theater of Cuba. Riffing brass punctuated a thrilling exchange between drummer and conguero.

"Colugo" was specially written to showcase Japanese bassist Hiroaki Maekaw, and he gave a technically impressive solo which drew inspiration from jazz-funk giants Marcus Miller
Marcus Miller
Marcus Miller
bass, electric
and Stanley Clarke
Stanley Clarke
Stanley Clarke
, bringing excited cheers from the crowd. This number was followed by a beautifully serene number; building slowly from piano, the front line of Fabian Liang's alto sax, Rufus David's soprano and Chua Loo's trumpet interweaved glowing lines before the rhythm section joined and upped the tempo. Rufus' solo was strong and lyrical, and he impressed throughout the set.

Tropic Green's strong set climaxed with "Beach Republic," a straight-ahead, boppish celebration. Alto saxophonist Liang and trombonist Regan Wiekman took turns stretching out, but as with all the compositions, it was the rousing collective voice—shaped by Harmer— that stood out, winning over a delighted crowd.

Next up was singer Annick Tangora's quartet, which ran through a highly polished set of songs from the singer's album Confluences (AMES, 2009). The title of the album is appropriate, as Tangora's music draws from myriad sources: jazz, bolero, rumba, French chanson and the rhythms of the Caribbean, all colored the music. Tangora's powerful voice was matched by her commanding stage presence. The warmth of her personality—whether singing in French, Spanish, Portuguese or English—infused and defined the music.

The performance began with the Cuban air of "Inolvidable," Julio Gutiérrez' popular bolero from 1944. The Americas provided inspiration for much of the material, from the seductive rumba of "Leo's Waltz' to the Venezuelan-inspired "Maracaibo." The rhythm section of bassist Eric Vincenot and drummer Jean Rabeso kept immaculate time throughout, while pianist Jonathon Jurion's electrifying playing provided some of the best improvisation of the two days.

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