Kuala Lumpur International Jazz Festival: 19-20 May, 2012
The inaugural KLIJF would have been unthinkable without Malaysian piano veteran Michael Veerapen. For over three decades, Veerapen has been the leading figure in Malaysian jazz, and along with drummer Lewis Pragasam, was instrumental in organizing the very first jazz-rock concert here in 1978. With Patrick Terbrack taking the stage once again, having barely had time to wipe the sweat from his brow, Veerapen led his quartet through a technically impressive set of elegant, old-school charm.
Pianist Chick Corea's "The Mad Hatter Rhapsody" opened the set, with Veerapen and Terbrack jointly stating the melody. Drummer Steve Nanda and electric bassist Daniel Foong kept light but propulsive time, providing the most solid of bases from which Terbrack on soprano, and then Veerapen, stretched out. Pianist Herbie Hancock's "One Finger Snap" followed, with Terbrack switching to tenor. Nanda and Foong had space to explore and both impressed with their poise and unflashy approach to soloing. Veerapen, though influenced by Corea and Hancocktwo of jazz's tireless explorers---is stylistically closer to the generation of pianists that preceded them, and his light, breezy touch on the Brazilian-tinged "New Joy" was more evocative of Oscar Peterson's lyricism.
Junji Delfinoone of KL's best-known jazz singersbrought some vocal sophistication to the remainder of the set. Harold Arlen/Johnny Mercer's "That Old Black Magic" featured Delfino's trademark scatting. The singer imbued real power in the swinging finale of singer Billie Holiday/Arthur Herzog's "God Bless the Child," with Terbrack's barreling alto solo and Veerapen's energetic turn adding further spice. Veerapen's jazzy arrangement of Karen Carpenter's "I'll Say Goodbye to Love" provided an oasis of pause in an otherwise up-tempo set, with Nanda's brushes setting the mood. Terbrack's nicely weighted alto solo captured the lyrical essence of the original.
Judie Garland's "Come on Get Happy" began as a slow, gospel blues, before Delfino dug deep and led the quintet through a stirring, ensemble passage, with the endlessly inventive Terbrack once again impressing on alto. The finale, with Veerapen and Delfino in hushed dialogue returned the song to the intimacy of its beginning. Veerapen kept his improvisational best till last, pulling out all the stops on trombonist/composer Juan Tizol's timeless "Caravan." Individually, the members signed off with strong closing statements, and whilst the virtuosity on display was hugely satisfying, this was a concert that extolled the virtues of the collective most convincingly.
The DNA of jazz and blues are so inextricably linked that there's hardly a jazz festival in the world that hasn't some element of blues in its program. KLIJF was no exception. Perth-based Malaysian singer/guitarist Trevor Jalla underlined the fact that you don't have to be born in Mississippi or Chicago to play the blues convincingly. Jalla has a deep appreciation of the historical breadth of the music, and his band paid homage to blues giants like Willie Dixon ("I Just Wanna Make Love to You"}, New Orleans singer/guitarist Walter Wolfman Washington ("I'll Be Good"), and, his major influence, B.B. King ("Ain't Nobody Home"/"You Upset me Baby").
B.B. King informs not only Jalla's ringing guitar style, but also his stage patter. Jalla, however, has more than one string to his bow, and his set was colored by a crossover pop/blues sensibility epitomized by his version of singer/guitarist James Taylor's "Limousine Driver" and "Everybody Has the Blues." Hans Fiance' piano ostinato set up Jalla for a biting solo, which he sang along to wordlessly in singer/guitarist George Benson vein. "I Don't Need No Doctor"the Nick Ashford/Valerie Simpson/Joe Armstead compositionhas worked for everyone from pianist/singer Ray Charles and Humble Pie to guitarist John Scofield. Jalla's deep-funk groove had a bouncing intensity, courtesy of drummer Joe Whittle and bassist Roy Martinez, and the guitarist and Fiance on electric piano traded licks. Singer/guitarist Keb' Mo's "Dangerous" rounded off a crowd-pleasing performance and raised the festival temperature a notch.
The violin seems to have been underemployed in jazz over the years, but in the right hands there is no more captivating an instrument. New York-based Japanese violinist Meg Okura and her Pan Asian Jazz Ensemble beguiled the KLIJF audience with stunning arrangements of multifaceted musician/composer Ryuichi Sakamoto 's music, as well as a few equally absorbing original pieces.