Kuala Lumpur International Jazz Festival: 19-20 May, 2012
Singer Irene Solianodaughter of orchestra founder Alphonso Solianojoined the stage, and gave an assured rendition of a rhythmically dynamic "Black Orpheus." This was followed by a lovely number sung in Malay, with Soliano initially accompanied by musical director Dato Mokhzani Ismail on piano, in intimate dialogue. The pair was soon lifted by the full weight of the orchestra. Saxophonist Sonny Rollins' "Doxy" was a showpiece for the integrated voices of the orchestra, and Soliano returned to sing several more numbers, including vintage standards "How High the Moon" and "But Not for Me." The RTM Jazz Orchestra's swinging start to the day was exactly what the program needed. Perhaps this historic Malaysian orchestra would have been the more logical choice to have opened the KLIJF the day before.
The best of KL's jazz scene was represented by the second act, the KL Jazz project, whose set was characterized by straight-ahead tunes with strong heads and tasteful interplay. The busy Patrick Terbrack was again on dutythis time as leaderas was trombonist Marques Young. Terbrack's swinging composition "Confucian" opened the set, followed by one from Young, driven by Fly's churning bass ostinato and drummer John Thomas's strong rhythms. Guitarist Jordan Rivers took a gently bluesy solo reminiscent of Grant Green. The lyrical "P-Bop" had a very Wayne Shorter-esque arrangement and a graceful melody. Beneath the solos, percussion veteran Steve Thornton's subtle play colored everything.
Pianist John Dip Silas' "Bar One" germinated from a lovely piano intro, with horns gliding in to buoy the melody. Dip Silas gave one of the festival's best constructed piano solos, as drums and percussion built empathetically around him. Thomas' bustling stick work brought the number to a heady climax. Thomas was a real force in the music; dynamic and intuitive and never flashy. Usually referred to as one of Malaysia's great drummers, Thomas is simply a great drummer period. Shorter's "Black Nile" was a feature for Thornton, with the supporting cast framing a great performance by a musician whose rhythms have underpinned everyone from trumpeter Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock to singer/pianist Tania Maria. It was the final act in an engaging set which was a fine advertisement for jazz in KL.
Guitarist Jeremy Tordjman brought a contemporary edge to the KLIJF with his personal brand of grooving jazz-funk. His thrilling guitar work was at the center of original compositions, but drummer Roger Biwandu, pianist/organist Alfio Origlio and bassist Barry Likumawa all excelled,too. The opening number was a delightful slice of powerhouse virtuosity. Tordjman's extended solo formed a dizzying bridge between Jimi Hendrix' bluesy psychedelia and John Scofield's jam-centric, jazz-funk. "Smoke That Grew" followed a similar pattern. Tordjman's secret weapon was Likumawa, who made more than a few jaws drop with his scintillating chops and deep grooves.
"Nostalgia of the Future" showed Tordjman's more lyrical side, with Likumawa's distorted bass bringing an edge to the tone of this quite lovely ballad. Likumawa's singing solo revealed a little more of the bassist's all-'round strengths. Tordjman employed a vocorder effect on guitar on a couple of numbers, but such effects were minimally employed. The guitarist went metal-wild on "Mr. Cool," shredding with joyful abandon while Biwandu and Likumawa charted a heavy groove. Origlio cut blues flavored lines on electric organ over Tordjman's riffing, steering the quartet back to the head and out.
Amazingly, the sound check earlier in the day had been the first time this quartet had played together Not one for the purists perhaps, but highly rewarding for those with an open mind towards creative music. The Jeremy Tordjman Group's electrifying performance was one to remember.
An open mind is a bonus when taking in 13 groups of varying styles. A festival, after all, is surely designed to showcase a broad spectrum of music. If a punter likes 80% of the bands on show then the organizers have succeeded. Most of the audience was won over by saxophonist and Blue Note recording artist Everette Harp. His soul-jazz was funk-charged and highly melodic. Playing without his usual band for only the second time in 20 years, Harp's pickup band reminded the audience of the outstanding talent coming out of Indonesia. Likumawa made his second appearance of the festival on bass, while pianist Indra Lesmana, drummer Sandi Winarta and guitarist Denny TR all gave consummate performances. Percussionist Thornton and keyboardist Hans Zermuethlen rounded out a decidedly solid unit.