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Borneo Jazz Festival 2018

Borneo Jazz Festival 2018
Wolfgang Konig By

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Borneo Jazz Festival
Miri, Sarawak, Malaysia
May 11-13, 2018

When May arrives, jazz fans in South East Asia know it is time for the Borneo Jazz Festival. It has been presented since 2006 in Miri, the second biggest city of Sarawak, one of the two Malaysian states on the island of Borneo. The new venue, the Coco Cabana, is a big wooden construction that resembles traditional Balinese architecture, beautifully located on reclaimed land between a lagoon and the South China Sea, next to Miri's seahorse-shaped lighthouse.

Just a few months ago, the artistic direction was assumed by the pianist Evelyn Hii, a Miri native who is based in Malaysia's capital city Kuala Lumpur where she runs the jazz club No Black Tie. Evelyn Hii places particular focus on collaborations of musicians from Malaysia with colleagues from around the world. Thus, the festival kicked off with the quartet WVC (alto saxophone, piano, electric bass & drums) from Kuala Lumpur, featuring the Japanese guitarist Isao Miyoshi. While WVC is influenced by the ECM sound, their Japanese guest preferred fusion which created an interesting mix.

Up next was the Brussels-based Hungarian violinist Roby Lakatos who is equally at home in classical music, the Hungarian gypsy tradition and jazz. In Miri he joined with three Asian colleagues: from Malaysia the guitarist Az Samad and Zulhilmy Zulkifli, who played an electric upright bass, and on the acoustic lead guitar Denis Chang who was born on Montreal, Canada, to Taiwanese parents. He ispecialised in the Django Reinhardt style and is involved—yes, there is such a thing!—in Taiwan's annual Taipei Gypsy Jazz Festival. In Sarawak, the four musicians harmonized perfectly and delivered a wonderful show in the spirit of Stephane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt.

For the first time ever, a festival presented both Roby Lakatos and his tenor saxophone playing older brother Tony, who has been based in Frankfurt, Germany, for many years. Tony performed in the Borneo Jazz Festival Band with two other reed players: Julian Chan from Malaysia (alto saxophone) and Li Gaoyang from Beijing/ China (tenor). The band was led by the Singapore pianist Jeremy Monteiro. They performed standards and compositions by the two tenor players. A jam session closed the first night. The second jam started in the afternoon on the smaller Fringe Stage with the piano trio of Sri Hanuraga from Jakarta. They played interesting arrangements of Indonesian folk songs which suddenly sounded very jazzy as if they had been created for an improvising band. Another fusion followed with the Beat Goes Bach project of the Malaysian pianist Mei Lin Hii. Together with the Italian drummer Lorenzo Brilli, she gave a new twist to compositions of Johann Sebastian Bach.

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