Kuala Lumpur International Jazz Festival: 19-20 May, 2012
Watts' "Oasis" matched lyricism with searing intensity. Monteiro's stunning solotraversing the entire length of the keys in bold and sweeping runsbrought a thumbs-up from Watts. Smithwho has played with the likes of singer Sarah Vaughan and trumpeter Don Cherryimpressed with a soulful intervention, accompanied by the ever intuitive Kelley. Another Watts' staple, "Reaching Up," brought important closing statements from all, and a merited standing ovation from the crowd.
The honor of closing the first day of KLIJF 2012 fell to UK jazz-funk stalwarts Incognito , who gave a highly energetic performance featuring songs from its 15th studio album, Surreal (Shanachie, 2012) as well as material stretching back the length and breadth of its storied 33-year career. Founder/guitarist/producer Jean-Paul "Bluey" Maunick let the crowd know from the first notes of the James Brown-inspired "Love, Joy, Understanding" that Incognito's music is all about communication. Bluey's funky guitar riff and trumpeter Sid Gauld's hot trumpet fired up the band, which worked overtime to lively up the audience. Eventually, through sheer energy, they persuaded the crowd to leave its seats and boogie on down in front of the stage.
Incredibly, over 1,500 musicians from all over the world have taken the stage with Incognito over the yearsmany for just one performanceand the League of Nations makeup of the band (members hail from Mauritius, Scotland, England, Italy, Indonesia, Swaziland, Germany and Portugal) found its way in to the grooves and melodies of the music.
Singers Dira Sugandi, Natalie Williams, Mo Brandis and Tony Momrelle exuded Motown soulfulness and combined powerfully on "Talkin' Loud" and the deep-soul "N.O.T." Individually, the singers were given plenty of space to shine. Momrelle's interpretation of Stevie Wonder's "As" sounded unerringly like the soul-pop giant; Sugandi was a bundle of soulful energy on "something About the Girl," and Williams brought a little chill out on the slower, "Can't Get You out of My Head"; Brandisback in the Incognito family after two years touring with singer Sadeimpressed on "Labor of Love," a real throwback to soul's '70s heyday.
The subtle funk of new number "Above the Night" contrasted with the heavier grooves and percussion-driven "Expresso Madureira." The latter number was a tribute to Brazilian '70s funk/jazz/soul/salsa band, Banda Black Rio and featured a cracking exchange between drummer Francesco Mendolio and percussionist João Patano. "Always There" brought the crowd to its feet, and everybody partied on through Stevie Wonder's "Don't You Worry 'bout a Thing"with the brass section executing nifty dance steps in unison and the encore, "I'll Hear Your Name." Incognito's soulful, funky performance was a musical celebration. Its energy and enthusiasm was simply infectious, and crowned a great first day at KLIJF. Little wonder this band, led by the indomitable Bluey, is still going strong in its fourth decade of existence.
Though it has taken a while for Kuala Lumpur to establish a jazz festival, it has probably the most vibrant jazz scene of any city in Malaysia, with several clubs promoting top local and international live jazz. Thinking ahead, the stated aim of the KLIJF is to promote local jazz through integrated programs throughout the year. The logic is simple; local jazz benefits and so does the KLIJF, as any event programmed throughout the year will of course help promote the festival. The healthy number of Malaysian jazz musicians on the program, as well as ex-patriot jazz musicians based in KL, was proof that the KLIJF has started as it intends to continue.
Day two of the KIJF 2012 got underway promptly at four o'clock with the RTM Jazz Orchestrathe oldest orchestra in Malaysia, which was formed by Ahmad Merican. Celebrating its 50th year, the RTM was led for many years by the late Alphonso Soliano, a jazz pianist who brought jazz to Malaysia in the 1950s. The orchestra benefited from the tutelage of multi-reed player Charlie Mariano and trumpeter Herb Pomeroy in the 1960s. It was clear from the get-go that this 15-piece band has genuine jazz pedigree, as the opening numbers, "Tribute" and "Dawn in KL" saw the ensemble swing with the ease of a Count Basie band. Solos from the horn section, guitar and drums were all short and to the pointthe orchestra's voice was the thing.