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Asian Jazz All-Stars Power Quartet: Live at the Living Room Jazz Festival, Bangkok

Ian Patterson By

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The name says it all; four of Asia's leading jazz musicians—Singaporean pianist/organist Jeremy Monteiro, Philippine saxophonist Tots Tolentino, Hong Kong guitarist Eugene Pao and Thai drummer, Hong Chanutr Techatana-nan—combine to produce a powerful, electro-acoustic jazz fusion which draws inspiration from the Larry Goldings/Peter Bernstein/Bill Stewart trio. Recorded at the Living Room, Bangkok during a month-long jazz festival in June 2011 to celebrate the venue's tenth anniversary, this recording captures the quartet in exuberant mood.

After thirty years at the piano, Monteiro returned to his early love, the Hammond organ, in recording Groovin' at Groove Junction (Jazznote Records, 2009)—nominated for an Independent Music Award—and his organ sound leaves a large imprint on the session. Peter Bernstein's grooving, Blue Note-flavored "Carrot Cake" opens proceedings with strong solos from tenor player Tolentino and Monteiro. Gigging with his organ trio Organamix these last couple of years has sharpened Monteiro's organ chops, and his playing is confident and imaginative. Pao in turn stretches his digits, showing the kind of tasteful attack that has seen him work with pianists Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock, guitarist Joe Pass , saxophonist Jackie McLean, and drummers Jack DeJohnette and Bill Bruford.

A nineteen-minute interpretation of "African Skies" pays homage to its creator, saxophonist Michael Brecker. Pao, Tolentino and Monteiro all performed and/or recorded with Brecker, and the quartet really cooks on this free-spirited workout. Tolentino wisely follows his own path on a rousing tenor exploration, rather than trying to emulate the foremost post-Coltrane tenorist that Brecker was. Monteiro ratchets up the intensity a notch with a searching, extended solo before the quartet shifts down a gear, setting Pao loose with the task of bringing things back to the boil, which he does with a fluid, bluesy solo with plenty of bite. Chanutr Techatana-nan's effervescent, driving rhythms are a key to the dynamism of this track, and the quartet's energy throughout the recording.

Burt Bacharach/Hal David's "This Guy's in Love" provides a beautiful oasis of slowly swinging calm, with Tolentino and Pao's lyricism to the fore. Another fine Monteiro solo opens Larry Goldings "Wrappin' it Up," before Tolentino picks up the reins with a snaking solo which gains gradually in potency. This mid-tempo number showcases more measured, though no less impressive playing from the quartet and Pao in turn shines with a mazy run.

Tolentino's swinging "Tiramisu"—dedicated to Japanese trumpeter Terumasa Hino—clocks in at almost eighteen minutes and is perhaps the most ambitious and satisfying tune of the CD. The quartet burns on this hard-grooving number for the first eight minutes. Monteiro then unfolds a vaguely spacey solo over a drone before launching into adventurous improvised waters. Pao's liveliest playing of the session sets the seal on a powerful performance.

Jazz-fusion—for want of a better term—is alive and kicking in Asia, as this excellent recording demonstrates. So far, only Asian audiences have been fortunate to see this incendiary quartet on tour. Hopefully, it will go into the studio with some original material soon and launch itself beyond Asia.

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