9th Penang Island Jazz Festival: Malaysia, November 29-December 2, 2012
The second day of the main program and the final day of PIJF began with the traditional Community Drum Circle led by enthusiastic members of the Aseana Percussion Unit. The largest crowd yet assembled for the 10:00am workshop shook, rattled, beat and thumped its way through a series of rhythms suggested mostly by the attendees themselves. Trumpeter Alexander Rodriguez Cala from Estudiantina Ensemble lent some burning Cuban melodies to the heady percussive gumbo. The attendees ranged in age from 7 to 70 and either grew in their shoes or rolled back the years, but the common denominator was immense enjoyment in each other's rhythms.
The workshops on Sunday were nicely varied, with guitarist Martin Taylor presenting an inspirational workshop geared towards the many guitarists in the audience. Through step-by-step demonstrations he made music theory sound as simple as Lego, and surely sent the attending guitar students home with renewed enthusiasm and belief.
A small but enthusiastic crowd was treated to an engrossing workshop from hang player Sotomayer. The workshop was held in the Gallery, where this year "Penang's Popular Music of the 1940s to 1960s"an exhibition co-produced by The Capricorn Connection and The Penang State Museumtook center stage. Photos of performers in past editions of PIJF were also displayed, as were a large number of percussive instruments from around the world that anybody was free to try out. One of the most striking instruments was a t'runga bamboo xylophone from the central highlands of Vietnamwhich sounded good even when played badly.
This main theme of this year's Island Jazz Forum was the question of jazz festival programming. Piotr Turkiewicz, Artistic Director of one of Poland's most progressive jazz festivals, Jazztopad, Jae Jin In, Artistic Director of South Korea's enormous Jarasum International Jazz Festival, Catherine Mayer, managing director of Europe's oldest jazz booking agency, Just Jazz, and the author all contributed their personal viewpoints on the topic, as well as the subject of festival sponsorship
In Europe, Turkiewicz said, it's getting harder and harder to secure sponsorship. When mediator Richard LaFaber put the same question to In, he caused laughter when he said: "For Jarasum, it's getting easier and easier." For Jarasum's 9th edition, held in October, some 200,000 people turned up for the 2-day festival. Such has been the growth of a festival that could easily have folded after three editions but for In's stubborn refusal to be defeated, that the festival team is having to re-landscape the festival siteby building a hill to accommodate the ever-increasing number of people pitching up year after year. Little wonder the sponsors are knocking on the door to be associated with this great success story.
Though significantly smaller than Jarasum, the PIJF is something of a success story itself. The fact that it's going for edition number ten in 2013, despite limited and fluctuating sponsorship, says a lot for Augustin's tenacity and the great work of his team. PIJF can also be considered a success for the quality of the music that is has staged over the years and day 2 of the main stage program was particularly strong in this the 9th edition.
The fringe performances did not disappoint. Having started off life as a Police covers band, the trio Terms Crisis has come a long way in a short time, jettisoning vocals to go instrumental, doing away with covers to write its own original material and coming up with serious jazz-funk that was at once melodic, sophisticated and grooving. Subtlety was also part of the brew, with guitarist Indra weaving melodic single note runs in tight interplay with bassist Amir Ridzwan and drummer Rizad. Soulful bass underpinned Indra's spare yet emotional improvisation on the impressive "In Denial," whereas "Hunchback" burned with the kind of intensity typical of guitarist Jeff Beck's better power trios.
Most of the bands on the Fringe Program were from Kuala Lumpur, but the trio Funkyardpurveyor of cooking jazz-rock/funkwas an exception, having made the trek from Kotakinabalu in Malaysian Borneo. Guitarist David Tebari's playing was inventive and passionate and bassist Aldoreo bin Marunsai and drummer Othnniel Luke Suinggi also impressed with their dexterity and energy. This trio won the Kotakinabalu Jazz Festival Band Competition in 2012, and whilst this small-scale jazz festival doesn't create too many waves on the international festival circuit, for Funkyard it may yet prove to be a significant launching pad to greater things.
Similar elements of jazz-funk and jazz-rock were common to five-piece Black Lightbulb, though a delightfully heavy soul vibe was a cornerstone of the band's sound, instilled as much by bassist Zaim Zaidee and drummer Aswin Gobinath as singer Wawa Dzulkifil vocals. Keyboardist David Spenser's virtuosity was tempered by the feeling of space in his playing and he showed his chops as a flautist on the introduction to Stevie Wonder's "Superstitious." This track has become something of an Asian anthem, thoughflute intro apartthe arrangement was predictable.
More satisfying was the infectious pop anthem "Beauty is What Matters," driven by Dzulkifil's powerful vocals and a searing metal solo from impressive guitarist Raja Farouk. There was a touch of singer Aretha Franklin on the up-tempo soul-funk of "Not Much to Do," featuring a great bass solo and some lovely, Bruce Hornsby-esque soloing from Spenser. Formed at the beginning of 2012, this young group already sounds tight, yet with a loose-limbed freedom in the collective playing that creates exciting chemistry. Black Lightbulb was another band from the fringe that could potentially make the jump to the main stage in the near future.