Beishan International Jazz Festival, China, 19-20 October 2012
That said, there was no mistaking the verve in the playing and the swing, engendered in the main by pianist Luo Jingtian, bassist Liang Weitang and lively drummer Chai Hualiang, whose time-keeping was impeccable throughout. The first number was a vibrant calling card, a bold, swinging arrangement infused with the blues and, in Jingtian, a touch of boogie woogie. Tenor saxophonist Yu Shen Hai cut a flowing, confident solo, and he impressed throughout the show. On slower numbers, the band displayed sophisticated harmonics and deft counterpoint, though less inspiring was a rather bland arrangement of a tune that evoked a slightly cheesy '70s soundtrack.
Duke Ellington's "in A Mellow Tone" and an upbeat Latin-inspired number earned warm ovations from the appreciative crowd. Singer Zhu Lanlan's stage entrance was met with a great cheer that acknowledged her striking looks and spectacular gown. With just a little of the diva presence about her, she led the band through time-worn classics such as Ellington's "It Don't Mean a Thing," Nina Simone's "I Feel Good" and "Quien Sera?" (better known as "Sway"), the 1953 mambo by Mexican composer/bandleader Pablo Beltran Ruiz.
Tweet: "All the people are so excited."
"Sway" has been recorded in Persian, Arabic, Japanese Vietnamese and most major European languages. It was also recorded in Mandarin in 1968 by Teresa Teng-a Taiwanese singer known to Chinese worldwide-and in Cantonese by Hong Kong singer/actor Aaron Kwok Fu-shing in 2005, so it's well known to several generations of Chinese. Lanlan, obviously enjoying herself, moved graciously around the stage, buoyed by the powerful big band voice, and it made for an appropriately up-beat finale to an impressive performance. The We Do Big Band was greeted with a loud ovation, repeated when the band members entered the hall to sign autographs for a sizeable number of young people.
Guitarist Eduardo Figueiredo has been around longer than his youthful looks suggested, recording over a dozen albums as leader/co-leader since the late 1990's. Twice winner of the Montreux Jazz Festival Guitar Competition, his breathtaking technique and sheer musicality have drawn plaudits at home and abroad, with guitarists George Benson and Pat Metheny lavishing praise on the Brazilian. Benson has described Figuereido as "one of the greatest guitarists I've seen in my whole life," a view shared by Brazilian guitar legend Paulinho Nogueira. Metheny, for his part, referred to Figueiredo's semi-acoustic solo album Segundas Intenções (Self Produced, 2004) as "magic." Few in the audience who witnessed his performance at the head of his trio would disagree with such sentiments.
Figueiredo opened the set with a solo piece of astonishing dexterity, which brought gasps and cheers from the audience. He was then joined by veteran percussionist/drummer Alfonso Amir Corre Da Silva on tambourine, whereupon the two developed an engaging, playful dialogue, with Eduardo Machado on bass. A little predictably, perhaps, they regaled the crowd with Antonio Carlos Jobim's One Note Samba" followed quickly by Jobim/ Vinicius de Moraes' "The Girl from Ipanema." No prizes for surprises maybe, but rarely have these much-played bossa nova and samba classics sounded so vibrant or so freshly minted.
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Barely pausing for breath, the trio launched into "Aquarela do Brasil" (popularly known in English simply as "Brazil") by composer/pianist Ary Barroso. Though Figueiredo has long collaborated separately with both Da Silva and Machado, this was only the second gig together as a trio, so the chemistry at play and the sparks that flew were all the more impressive.
Figueiredo is an original talent, though his language is perhaps closest to guitarist/composer Egberto Gismonti for its seamless, exhilarating blend of Brazilian folk, jazz and classical vocabulary. Without a doubt, Figueiredo belongs in the pantheon of Brazilian guitar greats. Playful call-and-response between guitarist and bassist, and then between guitarist and the audience, created a suitably festive atmosphere, which Figueiredo exploited joyously with some lightning-fast runs the length and breadth of his guitar.
The inevitable encore was an original take on Jobim's eternally popular "Wave," which evolved from delicate interplay between Figueiredo and Da Silva on shaker-with the emphasis very much on play-into a riotous, show-stopping solo from the guitarist that will unlikely be forgotten by those present.
As the three musicians were leaving the stage, it seemed that more of the audience was already queuing for autographs than not. It's quite possible that the three Brazilians, obviously led astray early in life by music, haven't written so much since school days.
Tweet: "So wonderful! How Happy I am. I cannot sleep tonight."