Kerong Chok: Good Company (2012)
Though still in his twenties, pianist/keyboardist/composer Kerong Chok has been one of the bright young stars on Singapore's jazz scene for a decade. He stepped into the limelight as co-writer, arranger and deft accompanist on singer Rani Singam's Contentment (Inflexion Lines, 2011), and here makes his full debut as leader, on a Hammond organ-flavored set that evokes the instrument's '60s heyday and the classic Blue Note albums of that era. Nostalgic, perhaps, but these ten tracks are striking originals, and Chok's penmanship matches his undeniable instrumental panache.
The out-and-out blowing session "Black Ice" recalls organist Larry Young's influential 1960s Blue Note recordings, with Chok, guitarist Michael Valeanu and saxophonist Lucas Pino all cutting flowing solos which hit the mark and don't overstay their welcome. Constantly engaging drummer Jake Goldbas provides the solidest of rhythms and plenty of energy and color to boot. In the main, however, Chok places greatest emphasis on the collective voice and, though he certainly doesn't set out to reinvent the wheel, there's no denying the strength of these compositions and their melodic appeal.
The lightly Caribbean-flavored "Literacy" showcases Chok's commanding presence at a slow tempo, where emotional and melodic input outweighs chops, while Goldbas' quietly stated solo, over sympathetic guitar and Hammond chords, is a minor highlight of the CD. Guest trumpeter Matt Holman brings flowing bop lines to "Sounds from the Back Alley" and combines with Pino with burning intensity on "Incessant"; but Good Company is essentially a quartet outing and the space afforded the protagonists is one of the strengths of Chok's compositions.
Melodic strength abounds, too, and Choks' beautiful opening waves on the lyrical title track give way to an extended, unhurried solo. Tenor, guitar and Hammond provide arresting narrative. Goldbas is once more a subtly invigorating presence as the melody builds to a group climax, though the gently ruminative guitar coda is the perfect closing voice. The lilting flute and acoustic guitar-driven "Samba Number 1" provides pleasing contrast, with another telling intervention from the leader. "For Kenny" is a heartfelt tribute to pianist Kenny Kirklandwho, like Larry Young, passed away much too earlyand features a beautifully weighted, Wayne Shorter-esque statement from Pino.
The saxophonist again impresses on "The First Day of School," an elegant post-bop workout where Chok and Valeanu also leave strong imprints. The temperature is raised a couple of notches on "Incessant"another post-bop-inspired number which takes its cue from Miles Davis '60s quintetand on the short, bustling Sonny Rollins tribute, "Rill Son." The infectious R&B groove of "Free and Easy" could have come from guitarist John Scofield's bag, and provides another album highlight.
Chok's fine compositions are unabashedly old school in design, but such is the combination of vibrancy and seductiveness in the execution that it's hard not to be completely smitten. With Good Company, Chok has produced a hugely impressive debut, and one whose charms hold all manner of promise for the future.
Track Listing: Black Ice; Literacy; Sounds from the Back Alley; Samba Number 1; For Kenny; The First Day of School; Good Company; Incessant; Free and Easy; Rill Son.
Personnel: Kerong Chok: Hammond C-3 organ; Lucas Pino: tenor and soprano saxophones, flute; Michael Valeanu: guitars; Jake Goldbas: drums, percussion; Matt Holman: trumpet.
Record Label: Kerong Chok