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Penang Island Jazz Festival 2016

Ian Patterson By

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A festival can inspire a young person to believe they can be artists, they can be a performer and they can make a living. Festivals can be important for that. —Joe Sidek, Director, George Town Festival, Penang
12 + 1 Penang Island Jazz Festival
Bayview Beach Resort/Various Venues
Penang, Malaysia
December 1-4, 2016

A tongue-in-cheek marketing ploy, or fear of inviting disaster? The Malaysians are doubtless no more or no less suspicious than folk in most places, but the organizers of the 12th + 1 Penang Island Jazz Festival, as it was officially billed, perhaps weren't taking any chances. Although the monsoon season in Western Malaysia isn't too severe, a late afternoon downpour could have put a downer on this outdoor event that stands as the longest continually running jazz festival in Malaysia.

Happily, despite grey skies, the PIJF 2016 passed off without meteorological calamity and served up its usual smorgasbord of jazz and jazz-related music to small but enthusiastic crowds. Maybe the numbers counted after all.

The Penang Island Jazz Festival has come a long way since it was founded by Paul Augustin and Chin Chi Yeun of Capricorn Connections in 2004. What was then a low-key festival for a predominantly local, Penang audience, has gradually evolved into a truly international festival for an audience of around 5,000, the majority of whom travel from outside Penang.

If numbers were visibly down this year, it may have much to do with the hit the Malaysian tourism industry seems to have taken, with one source estimating that national/international tourism is down by as much as 30% this year.

Still, as Artistic Director Augustin told All About Jazz in a 2013 interview, the PIJF has weathered its share of storms over the years and has always bounced back. Sponsors may have come and gone but the important constant over the years—increasingly so in the past half dozen editions—has been the growth of the PIJF's musical program, not so much in volume, although the festival has expanded, as in quality.

In recent years the PIJF has attracted the likes of In The Country, Youn Sun Nah, Martin Taylor, Francesca Han, Rio Sidik, Jazz Kamikaze—the longstanding band featuring Marius Neset and Morten Schantz—Rusconi, Richard Bona, Sizhukong, Boi Akih and Tommy Emmanuel, to cite just a few of the acts who have graced the main Jazz by the Beach stage.

The palm-tree flanked Jazz by the Beach stage is situated in the gardens of the Bayview Beach Resort, just yards from the beach and about fifteen miles from the World Heritage centre of George Town, with its wonderfully colorful mixture of Malay, Chinese and Indian cultures animating the labyrinth streets and narrow alleys of one of the last corners of Old Asia.

Other venues at the PIJF included the neighbouring Hard Rock Hotel and the Bayview Beach Resort lobby, where the Creative Malaysia stages provided platforms for mostly young, up-and-coming Malaysian bands. The Tropical Spice Garden again played host to a ritual 7am concert (a highlight of PIJF 2016 for many), while the Bayview Beach Resort's Crystal Ballroom held a series of workshops, presentations and panel discussions.

Days One & Two

The first two days of PIJF were relatively low-key. Day one featured the opening concert of PIJF 2016, at 23 Love Lane, saw guitarist Kelvyn Yeang with singer Viv Adam, guitarist/singer-songwriter Az Samad, and singer-songwriter Liyana Fizi present an evening of acoustic music.

On day two, the Creative Malaysia program got underway, with thirteen bands rotating on the fringe stages of the Bayview Beach Resort and the Hard Rock Hotel, a program that ran over the next three days. The music on show covered a wide range of styles, from singer-songwriter fare and pop/rock cover acts to indie rock, jazz piano duos and pulsating ethnic folk vibes.

Basement Syndicate impressed with its soul 'n' funk-inflected rock, with a twist of jazz-cum-jam band groove. Vocalist Teddy Adhitya's strong, soulful delivery—not a million miles away from Steve Winwood—was out front on a couple of numbers, while bassist Idris Koh and drummer Omar Ibrahim's driving rhythms underpinned guitarist Uga Swastadi's soaring, blues-tinged flights. Basement Syndicate was, without a doubt, one of the most visceral and distinctive acts to have performed over the years on the Creative Malaysia stages at PIJF -surely a band with a bright future.

Another original act was the eight-piece band Sada Borneo, which fused electric instrumentation with traditional Malaysian instruments including sapeh—a lute-type instrument from central Borneo—, gamelan gongs and drums. Its infectious pounding rhythms, chants and well-defined melodies were a hit, although given the diversity of instruments at its disposal a little more dynamic range, compositionally speaking, might have resulted in greater impact. That said, Sada Borneo oozed confidence and charisma, and could well become, with a touch more refinement, a festival favorite in the vein of Aseana Percussion Unit.

Jazz acts were in short supply, though one worth noting was The Sesat Trio, featuring pianist Alton Wong, bassist Matteo Ricci and drummer Ateq. This trio's debut performance was at the Kota Kinabalu Jazz Festival in Borneo in July, yet despite its inexperience it gave an assured performance. Jazz arrangements of Malayan pop tunes worked extremely well—fertile ground for further development—while standards such as "But Not for Me" and Chick Corea's "Spain" were delivered with sensitivity and panache. Seventeen-year-old pianist Wong, influenced in equal measure by Kenny Barron, McCoy Tyner and Cory Henry, showed maturity in his deft touch, unobtrusive comping and confident soloing and looks like one to watch out for.

Tokyo Jazz Joints -The Story Behind: by James Catchpole

The celebration of photography and graphic art has been a staple of the PIJF for a number of years. World-renowned photographers such as Ziga Koritnik and William Ellis have exhibited at the PIJF and galleries of posters from jazz festivals around the world have added color to the event. This year, posters from the fifty years of Finland's famous Pori Jazz Festival were on display, while jazz broadcaster James Catchpole (OK Jazz Podcast) gave a fascinating talk about Tokyo's jazz bars/cafes, against the backdrop of photos by Phillip Arneill.

Arneill and Catchpole, both Tokyo residents, have trod the labyrinth of Tokyo's back alleys and hidden corners to painstakingly record the one hundred and thirty or so dedicated jazz bars/cafes. As Catchpole recounted, they have chronicled more than half of these often dark and claustrophobic, yet highly atmospheric temples of jazz—and their owners—,beautifully captured by Arneill's lens. The ongoing project, Catchpole recounted, has a sense of urgency, as many of the jazz bar proprietors are of advanced age. Despite the fact that smoke and alcohol seem to be constant companions to the jazz—nearly always vinyl—many of the seemingly indestructible proprietors have been leading this lifestyle for several decades.

Still, the reality, as Catchpole underlined, is that these jazz joints are slowly disappearing, as owners pass away and as urban renewal extends its reach. Where there were over two hundred and fifty such jazz joints in the early 1970s, today, Catchpole said, there are about half that number. In a fascinating talk, Catchpole guided the small but rapt audience from photo to photo, providing fascinating insight into an insular sub-world of jazz culture.

Catchpole and Arneill's Tokyo Jazz Joints project was first exhibited in New York in 2015 and has since showed in California and now Penang, Malaysia. An in-depth interview with Catchpole and Arneill shedding greater light on this unique project will appear in About Jazz in early 2017.

PIJF Jazz With a Heart

For a number of years, PIJF has held a fund-raising dinner with music in aid of local charities, This year three bands performed but the dinner, despite the evening's billing and for reasons unstated, was not. The upside was that the decent crowd assembled in the Crystal Ballroom could appreciate the music, headlined by Marutyri, without the distraction of eating and the loud social interaction that usually accompanies it. First up was Northern Jazz Unit Quintet with a standards set, led by pianist Jerome Quah—a tireless music educator, big-band leader and jazz advocate—and featuring vocalist Elyssa Tan Ngerong—a jazz diva of the old school.

The success of the evening, however, was UPSI Big Band, a thirty-piece ensemble from Tanjung Malim Penak—four hours from Penang—formed in 2010. With the rhythm section and guitarists on stage, and brass flanking either side of the stage level with the audience, UPSI's powerful performance of tunes by Gordon Goodwin, leader of the Grammy award-winning big band Gordon Goodwin's Big Phat Band, were enthusiastically received by the audience.

Like Goodwin's Big Phat Band, UPSI's aesthetic struck a balance between the sound of the big bands' hey-day of the 1930s and 1940s and more contemporary textures, typified by the band's excellent lead guitarists. The soloists played with verve and passion but the real star was the ensemble itself when in full swing. Led by Music Director Zamrus Bin Hashim, UPSI has been together for just a year, rehearsing together once a week. All the musicians are diploma/degree graduates of Universiti Pendidkan Sultan Idris and are primarily music educators and not performers. However, with appearances at the World Youth Jazz Festival, Kuala Lumpur as well as at Thaksin University, Thailand, and now PIJF, UPSI might well be getting a taste for the adulation of live audiences that appreciate its polished, rollicking big band sound.

Only time will tell just many of these young musicians, aged between twenty and twenty three, will go on to form jazz bands of their own—or any other kind of genre for that matter—but in UPSI they have a wonderful learning environment. And in PIJF, like many other bands this year and in years gone by, they have a champion that provides them a platform to strut their stuff and perhaps ignite their dreams.

Day Three

[email protected] Spice Garden

A popular feature of the PIJF in recent editions has been the 7am concerts/workshops in the Tropical Spice Garden, an award-winning, landscaped forest space that's home to over five hundred examples of tropical flora and fauna—edible, poisonous hallucinogenic, medicinal and visually stunning.

This year, a record number of people rose pre-dawn and took a short bus or taxi ride to the Tropical Spice Garden and climbed the hundred or so steps with torches to where tea or coffee and honey-and-banana-topped toast took the sting out of the early morning.

There were two singer-songwriters of contrasting styles. First up was Beverly Matujal, originally from Sabah but now Kuala Lumpur-based. Her sweetly sung, finely crafted tunes drew from experiences of love and loss, with a radio-friendly lilt in her vocal delivery coupled with tasteful guitar arrangements. Possessing a lovely voice, and with a natural, charming stage presence, her forthcoming debut EP Echoes should bring this talented singer-songwriter to a wider audience.

Another band with a debut EP due for release was Battle Bloom, a three-piece from Kuala Lumpur. Guitarist Fariz Salleh handled rhythm and lead duties while vocalists Melissa Toh and Dianne Lim carved luminous vocal harmonies, doubling on keyboard as well. Their delightful performance married groove and sophisticated harmonies within neat arrangements and was over just a little too soon. Interesting times ahead for this trio of unique stripe.

The final perofrmance of the morning brought together Nicole Johanntgen , guitarist Az Samad—a Berklee graduate with notable recording and performing pedigree—and brothers Gabriel and Vincenzo De Leon on drums and bass respectively. Given that there had been no previous rehearsal, the music created by the quartet was extremely impressive. The funked up, saxophone-driven opener established Johanntgen's credentials as a first-rate improviser, with Samad providing deft accompaniment.

A bossa nova-style version of the sublime "Chindering," a vaguely tangoish reading of "Jauh Jauh"—both compositions by Jimmy Boyle—and a jazz waltz all showcased Samad's first-rate playing. His measured, lyrical approach, warm tone and cleanly articulated solo lines might have conjured notions of Bill Frisell's influence, though Samad's sound was all his own. Johanntgen and Samad traded lusty, blues-laced solos on Thelonious Monk's "Blue Monk," fusing bop and R&B to vibrant effect. A special word for the De Leon brothers who lent much to the success of this musical meeting. Young but highly talented—by any yardstick—these two fine, instinctive musicians have almost certainly got bright futures ahead.

Johanntgen was then joined by guitarist/vocalist Peter Finc for a hybrid workshop-cum-performance. The two spoke of their shared musical language, their fearless approach to making music together and the chemistry that binds them. A few stonking songs full of Johanntgen's burning improvisational flare and Finc's vocal and rhythmic energy gave a foretaste of what was to be expected on the PIJF main stage the next day.

Three hours had passed by in the blink of an eye. The dark had surrendered to the early morning sun and a new day at PIJF had got off to a great start.

Workshops/Forums

An important part of the PIJF are the panel discussions—on wide-ranging, jazz-related topics—and the workshops run by the musicians. This year there were nine workshops geared towards musicians and a more general public alike, ranging widely in topic and style: creating a singular style; navigating the music business; songwriting, jazz guitar; rearranging and interpreting standards; the harmonica in jazz; modes and chords in jazz -in short, a festival within the festival.

Pianist James Boyle gave a presentation on his father, the late Jimmy Boyle, a renowned jazz musician, composer (he wrote over 350 tunes) and arranger. If the music of Jimmy Boyle is perhaps beginning to make a comeback and to be discovered by a new generation, then the PIJF must take some of the credit for that by giving James Boyle—and others who have interpreted his music—a platform.

Jimmy Boyle was a consummate jazz pianist, and led a trio in the 1950s and 1960s in the style of Ahmad Jamal and Nat King Cole. His performances were aired on The Voice of America and the BBC and amongst Boyle's many admirers were Jack Teagarden and Charles Lloyd.

Presciently, Jimmy Boyle told The Strait Times in a 1958 interview: "Jazz is here to stay, irrespective of what has been said, is being said and will be said about it." Doubtless, it would have pleased Jimmy Boyle immensely to know that over sixty years after he began playing jazz, Malaysia boasts jazz festivals in Borneo, Kula Lumpur and Penang, and perhaps, that his own music is reaching a new generation.

Island Music 'Going Beyond Forum: Festivals—"Contributing to the Creative Economy of the City and Country?"

On the panel, and shedding light on the ways in which festivals contribute to the local and national creative economy and the challenges festivals face in doing so, were PIJF Artistic Director Paul Augustin, Joe Sidek, Director of Penang's own multi-arts George Town Festival, and from Denmark, Martin Roen, producer of concerts and programmes and recordings/events for the Danish National Radio Big Band.

The term 'creative economy' is something of a buzz-phrase these days, an umbrella term to describe the multiple ways that festivals can stimulate economies. Festivals set in motion many wheels, from advertising agencies, graphic designers and media outlets, to sound, lightning, stage and consultancy companies. From cottage industries (memorabilia, crafts, locally sourced food and beverages) to the multinational brands who sponsor festivals, searching for innovative ways to maximize brand exposure. Even securing funding to run a festival, as Augustin and Sidek know only too well, is in itself something of a creative process.

Augustin described how festivals not only contribute to the local economy but how they promote the locale nationally and internationally, stimulating internal and international tourism. [It may also be the case that tourism is a driver of new festivals]. Festivals also have the capacity, Augustin added, to take kids off the streets by encouraging participation in the arts, and contributing to a broader sense of civic pride.

Festivals are also drivers of the local and national live music scene, as Martin Roen noted: "What we see is that the Copenhagen Jazz Festival has started a movement towards jazz concerts and bigger jazz concerts throughout the year." Part of this growth is directly attributable to the CJF organisation, which promotes projects from December until February. "I think it's important for the small venues that they are supported by an organisation like this, with their promotion and ability to organize."

The CJF draws 250,000 thousand people every year, which generates a significant flow of money into the city's economy, but for Roen, the greatest impact is another: "I think the main impact in the capital is actually for the jazz scene. For Danish musicians it is very important. That's the time of year when they can have thirty gigs and they are well paid."

Clearly the Danish/Copenhagen model is not universally true and many festivals are indeed guilty of not paying bands at all, arguing that the exposure they get should be reward enough.

George Town Festival, now in its eighth year, was born to celebrate George Town's listing as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and has become something of joint cultural and tourism product. However, as Joe Sidek observed, its less tangible benefits are some of it most important. "Government tend only to see the numbers. They don't see the benefits of educating young people. Some young people who come to watch and think, 'Oh, I can make a career out of being a musician.' A festival can inspire a young person to believe they can be artists, they can be a performer and they can make a living. Festivals can be important for that. That's why I do it."

There are many layers to the creative economy surrounding festivals, both tangible and intangible, from Chinese promotors positioning cars on stage during band's performances to charitable fund-raising drives, and from tourism—with all its trickle down effects—to young boys and girls in the audience inspired by a festival show to make a career as performers, artists and musicians.

The PIJF's creative economy has brought tens of thousands of people to Penang and generated significant exposure for the island through multiple reviews in the international media. It has given exposure and encouragement to young Malaysian musicians at home and abroad, inspiring careers in the process. And, through the word of mouth of visiting musicians, the PIJF has helped grow the reputation that Penang holds as a place not only of culture, but as a welcoming and beautiful destination in its own right.

Jazz by the Beach

Kim Oki Band

Thanks to a Memorandum of Understanding with Jarasum International jazz Festival, South Korean jazz bands—in all their rich diversity—have been a staple of the PIJF programme for some years. Kim Oki Band is the drummerless quartet of saxophonist Young-Hoon Kim, who also goes by the moniker of Okinawa Kim. Just a small crowd was present for this opening concert on the main stage at PIJF, but the late-comers missed a captivating exhibition of free-leaning jazz.

Kim and bassist Wonsool Lee's explorative introduction was soon joined by Gyujae Lee on flute, with the flautist taking over lead duties as Kim fell back on a drone-like motif. Flutist and saxophonist then engaged in an extended dialog, the overlapping waves spiralling hither and thither—the music anchored by Wonsool Lee's simple, barely wavering bass patterns. Wonsool Lee's lyrical unaccompanied bass intro to the next number forged a snaking path towards another distinctive ostinato, the signal for saxophone and flute to release a gentle unison melody. Floating at first, like a kite in a gentle current, Kim and Gyujae Lee gradually embarked on separate yet parallel courses as the music grew in intensity—wild and beautiful.

The trio became a quartet when Park Ji Ha joined on piri—a double-reed bamboo 'oboe.' The piri's slightly nasally tone entwined with the softer flute and tenor saxophone voicings to striking effect on a slow-burning tune, once more buoyed by an insistent bass ostinato. An unaccompanied, ruminative saxophone break formed a bridge to the next segment, where a strong bass motif propelled flute and saxophone, and then piri, into a well-defined, distinctly Korean melody. The three gradually wove divergent sonic threads, free yet attuned, to create heady yet hypnotic sheets of sound.

Park Ji Ha lent vocals on the closing number, a mellifluous and rather enchanting meeting of Korean folk tradition and jazz balladry, with flute and saxophone dovetailing lyrically. It was a fine ending to a persuasive performance. Kim Oki Band has a strong personal identity and it is to be hoped that the recording studio beckons before long.

The James Boyle Trio with Liyana Fizi and Bihzhu

Over fifty years ago, Malaysia boasted a jazz pianist of remarkable talent. The late Jimmy Boyle—whose career encompassed several genres of popular music—was a renowned composer of popular tunes, several of which are known to subsequent generations of Malaysians. A recording exists of Boyle on The Voice of America, leading his piano trio on an original and a version of "I Surrender Dear." At first listening you'd be forgiven for thinking it was the great Ahmad Jamal's classic trio.

In spite of being a pillar of modern Malaysian popular music, the jazz pianist that was Jimmy Boyle is largely unknown to Malaysia's young musicians today. His son, award-winning pianist and Berklee graduate, James Boyle, is keeping his father's legacy alive. First, there was a biography and now this concert, presenting Jimmy Boyle's best loved tunes in a jazz setting.

With the father-and-son team of bassist Ruslan Imam and Ruvi Ruslan providing rhythmic push and pull, Boyle proceeded to exhibit a light, dancing touch, his flowing runs alternating with chordal progressions as melodic as they were percussive. Extended, airy bass and drum solos early in the opening tune created something of a lull in the momentum, but Boyle's return briefly rekindled the flame.

Two of Malaysia's most promising up-and-coming singers breathed wonderful life into a number of Jimmy Boyle's songs. Bihzu and Boyle's rendition of the gorgeous tune "Chendering"—with cymbals hissing like sea breeze—would have brought a tear to a hangman's eye. Bihzu also impressed on the breezy swinger "Putera Puteri," injecting spirited scat into what is perhaps Jimmy Boyle's best known song. Liyana Fizi, for her part, gave heartfelt readings of the ballad "Gema Rembulan"—which also featured an elegant Boyle solo—and "Jauh Jauh," which moved from gentle melancholy to swinging mid-tempo stroll, with Boyle at his most expansive.

In between, the piano trio interpreted "Focal Point," a Jimmy Boyle jazz tune of some sophistication that brought out the most dynamic playing of the set from Boyle. Whenever Boyle laid out, however, it was like air going out of the tyre, and a more challenging arrangement might have rendered better service to the catchy, original tune.

Earlier in the set Bihzhu sang Jimmy Boyle's praises to the crowd: "I feel really strongly that Jimmy should be a household name and we hope by playing tonight that we can help share his music again with a new generation." To that end, James Boyle might consider extending the life of this project. Certainly the feeling of many at the PIJF 2016 was that James Boyle's jazz recording of his father Jimmy's songs would be a most welcome contribution to the enduring legacy of one of Malaysia's historic greats.

Timo Vollbrecht—Fly Magic

German Timo Vollbrecht is gradually gaining an international reputation as a saxophonist, composer and bandleader of note, having been invited by Danilo Pérez to play the Pananma Jazz Festival. A South and Central American tour was followed by a tour of South East Asia, festival dates in Australia and appearances with Kenny Werner and Randy Brecker. With six albums under his belt Vollbrecht is hardly a novice, but his latest album, Fly Magic (Berthold Records, 2016), which made up this PIJF set, may be the one to break him to an even wider audience.

On the opener "Slothchops," bassist Martin Nevin and drummer Sebastian Merk maintained an uncluttered rhythmic pulse while guitarist Keisuke Matsuno's noodling atmospherics and grungy riffing underpinned Vollbrecht's measured, yet powerful tenor lines. Clearly, the collective voice came before individual virtuosity. "Paco," dedicated to the late, great flamenco guitarist Paco De Lucia borrowed chord voicings from a Sevillanas, and whilst Vollbrecht's melodic narrative also spun subtly Iberian textures, Matsuno's loop-heavy guitar acrobatics steered the tune into more avant terrain.

The atmospheric ballad "New York Love Affair" revealed a more introspective aspect of Vollbrecht's writing, the saxophonist's longing tone casting a quiet spell in what was effectively a slow blues of contemporary hue. The rhythmic ebb and flow of "Lord Mantis" exerted a peculiar tension, with Matsuno's straight-ahead solo juxtaposed against the tight group orchestration. Matsuno's own "Globus," a simmering, indie jazz-rocker, surreptitiously worked its charms, venturing from serene soundscapes to tumultuous, drum-fuelled climax.

Original, powerful music from a band with few, if any, obvious points of reference. Timo Vollbrecht Fly Magic is one to check out.

Joshua Davis

In the past few editions of the PIJF the program has made elbow room for artists who have participated in premier talent-finding shows like The Voice and American Idol. It's a concession to populism admittedly, but talents such as Seth Glier and Crystal Bowersox—who both shone at PIJF 2014—have proven to be shrewd programming choices. Joshua Davis is a fifteen-year career veteran with three solo albums and five with the roots 'n' rock band Steppin' In It under his belt.

Davis' fine, honey-toned voice and lyrical narratives of love, loss and the vicissitudes of life were seductive, as was his facility on the guitar, where he displayed a deep affinity for American roots music; country, folk, blues and jazz fused seamlessly in Davis' sunny vocabulary. Tunes like "Morris and Ella" and "Just Getting By" straddled the poetic sensibility of Paul Simon and, on "Wren's Lullaby," the earthier appeal of Jack Johnson. It would be no great stretch of the imagination to imagine a band behind Davis propelling him to stadium success.

The blues never strayed far during the set, infusing tunes like the Springsteen-esque "The Workingman's Hymn" and "The Midnight Ghost," with Davis displaying tasty slide-guitar chops. "The Valley of Fire," an upbeat, gospel 'n' blues-tinged tune inspired by Davis' bridge-building efforts in Israel/Palestinian Territories provided a set highlight. On the sprightly set-closer "The Midnight Ghost," Davis evoked the spirit of Mississippi John Hurt.

A natural songsmith, Davis' sincere, lovingly crafted tunes struck a chord with the PIJF audience and would likely do the same with most open-minded music lovers.

Marutyri

Jazz-fusion, once a much maligned term, has come to mean something different in this modern era of cross-pollination. Rotterdam-based Marutyri weds elements of electro-acoustic jazz, large doses of funk and an X factor that results in a contemporary visage. Formed in 3014, Marutyri were quick to release a couple of Eps, though this PIJF set drew in the main from the eight-piece band's highly impressive debut album Inner Movements (Challenge Records, 2016).

The triple horn section of Dennis te Woerd (saxophone), Floris Windey (trumpet/flugelhorn) and Pablo Martinez (trombone) colored the music to a great extent, vying between soulful harmonizing, as on the opening track, and deep funk grooves reminiscent of Tower of Power., Drummer Maurice Slot, percussionist Roy Gielesen and bassist Rik van der Ouw were an animated rhythm team, though in effect each member of the band functioned as rhythmic cogs in the machine, with guitarist Ruud van Halder and pianist/keyboardist Thijmen Oberink also bringing more nuanced textures to the mix.

The melodic contours and funk grooves of "Kale" evoked the James Taylor Quartet at its raunchiest, whereas the episodic "Grump" followed a more circuitous path, with keys and guitar trading thrillingly back and forth before the striking unison head reasserted itself. The curious hybrid of jazz-lite melody, R&B grooves and grungy funk riffs that was "Stellar Kid" summed up Marutyri's genre mash-up, with a fine 'bone solo from Pablo Martinez. Greater orchestral depth colored the "Lost Minute," with a major drum/percussion solo to boot, and the high-energy ensemble performance concluded with the punchy "The First One," with van Halder's searing blues-rock solo the highlight.

Marutyri is a band full of energy, ideas and talent and could well become a mainstay of the festival circuit. One to watch for.

Day Four

Island Music Forum: 'Going Beyond': PIJF Takes Music Abroad

The second panel discussion at PIJF 2016 addressed the experiences of Malaysian musicians working at home and abroad. Chaired by Az Samad, the panellists were James Boyle, Liyana Fizi, Bihzhou and Kelvyn Yang.

With experience touring nationally, as well as international—at the Jarasum International Jazz Festival, South Korea, in China and Thailand—the four musicians were well placed to offer insight into the realities of making it as a musician in Malaysia and abroad. Speaking about the experience of singing in another language to that of the target audience when playing abroad, Fizi had encouraging words for any would-be musicians in the audience: "It really doesn't matter the language you sing in. Music is the language."

There was also plenty of sound advice for young up-and-coming musicians wishing to pursue a career in music. Perseverance was Bihzhu's message. Bihzhu had been in the audience of PIJF 2005, dreaming of singing at the festival. The next year, she played the fringe stage of PIJF, but she had to wait nine years before realizing her dream of graduating to the main stage.

"We live in an age of instant gratification," Bihzhu observed, "but good things take time. If you really want to get somewhere keep your eye on the ball and work hard. Don't beat yourself up if things don't happen immediately. Understand that it will happen when the time is right. If I had given up half way through I wouldn't be here today."

Yeang concurred with Bihzhu's message of patience, advocating working at your instrument/voice and staying positive. He advised however, that there is no place for any feelings of entitlement. Success, he stressed, only comes through hard work and humility. "Humility is something that you learn from experience."

In an open, honest and very eloquent discussion, the musicians shared road stories and even admitted to having moments of self-doubt. "Some people will like your music, others will not. That's okay," said Fizi. "That's why there are fans of a lot of kinds of music. Focus on your own music and be sincere."

For Boyle, one of the most important building blocks for any musician with ambition is technique. "The fundamentals of music must be prepared. You have to have self-discipline." Boyle also stressed the importance making sufficient time for rehearsals and the value of original material. "Focus on what we have at home, our own music, our own legacy, our own heritage, because what we have at home has not been explored enough."

"Only work with people who want to work with you," was another piece of advice from Fizi. "When you play music it's not just you and your band; you have to think of the organizers, the sound engineers, the media—you have to be broad in your mind and think about all these things."

All the musicians, including Samad, paid warm tribute to Paul Augustin for showing faith in their talent, for giving them encouragement and advice, and for giving them a platform for their music, as well as on-going support.

Through the PIJF Augustin has done a huge amount to encourage and promote young Malaysian musicians, but he has also made a major contribution to the preservation and appreciation of Malaysia's musical legacy in the 20th century. Along with co-author James Lochhead, Augustin penned the book Just For the Love of It: Popular Music in Penang, 1930s-1960s (2015). Augustin is also the brains behind the Penang House of Music, a state of the art, gallery-cum-archive centre in George Town that documents and celebrates the rich popular music heritage of Penang. An All About Jazz article in the New Year will profile the Penang House of Music.

Jazz by The Beach

Triple Standard

Pianist George Nagata, vocalist/beatbox artist Daisuke Ito and guitarist Naoto Suzuki have been breathing new life into old standards since the trio's formation in 2012 and have released two albums to date. Suzuki's straight-laced, casual attire was a little at odds with Nagata's kimono and Ito's sharp-dressed clown outfit, but more importantly, the three were finely attuned to the task in hand.

It's not easy task to dust off material like Louis Armstrong's "Wonderful World" and the Gershwin's "Summertime"—staples of hotel lobby jazz bands the world over—and make them shine but Nagata's spare arrangement, Ito's suavely seductive vocals and Suzuki's lithe comping and adventurous soloing did just that. Ito's beatbox rhythms negated the need for a drummer, his hissing 'cymbal' and sharp 'rim shots' injecting snap and swing into the mix.

The torch song "Along With You," sung in Japanese, was a little saccharine in relation to the more gutsy jazz approach the trio employed elsewhere. Much more satisfying was the strikingly original take on Michel Legrand's "Windmills of Your Mind," with its shifts in tempo, during which Nagata and Suzuki both impressed with freewheeling solos. Likewise, Charlie Chaplin's ever-popular "Smile" was rejigged, veering from the original blueprint to more dramatic terrain, with Ito's vocal crescendo crowning a lyrical performance.

A funked-up version of Mexican songwriter Maria Grever's "What a Difference a Day Made" closed an entertaining set on a high note, with Suzuki unleashing a wonderfully fluid, bluesy solo straight out of George Benson's book, followed by an equally expansive and eloquent response from Nagata. A charged improvisational exchange between Ito and Suzuki provided a thrilling finale.

Triple Standard's mining and refining of the standards songbook was charming, engaging and, on a certain level, quite bold. Its fresh, zesty approach to material as old as the hills was warmly received by the PIJF audience and got the final day of the festival off to a flying start.

Rafal Sarnecki Quintet

Polish guitarist Rafal Sarnecki has been New York-based for over a decade and has released three albums to date under his own name. This Eurasian quintet, featuring Polish musicians, pianist/keyboardist Piotr Wrombel and bassist Wojciech Pulcyn, and Malaysian musicians, saxophonist Julian Chan and drummer KJ Wong, presented Sarnecki's contemporary compositions, from his latest offering Cat's Dream (Brooklyn Underground Records, 2016) as well as older material, with nuanced interplay and panache in equal measure.

Sarnecki gave early notice of his lyrical, cleanly articulated lines on the opening number, "Ordovician Extinction," a fairly orthodox post-bop tune, which morphed into a drum solo over an unchanging piano vamp. The spaciousness of the smouldering "Dadaism" invited a telling solo from Wrombel, while Pulcyn, Sarnecki and Chan were principal leads on the tune that followed, which glided effortlessly from balladic to more animated territory.

The lightly Latin-flavored "Hermeto," a tribute to Hermeto Pascoal from Sarnecki's second album, The Madman Rambles Again (Fresh Sound New Talent, 2011), was built around extended improvisations from Wrombel and Sarnecki. The final number, "Three Old Men from the Land of Aran," a smart, contemporary sounding arrangement, brought a searching solo from Chan brimming with narrative flare, while Sarnecki's reply grew with the quintet's shift in gears.

Sarnecki's striking compositions provided a framework for individual virtuosity and intuitive interplay, but with the quintet members living worlds apart it will likely be difficult to convene this line-up with any regularity. If this is to be a special, one-off project then it will go down as a memorable one in the PIJF's history to date.

Nicole Johanntgen & Peter Finc

Those who braved the pre-dawn rise to witness Nicole Johanntgen & Peter Finc at The Tropical Spice Garden the day before would have known what to expect, but for the majority of the PIJF audience the duo's performance was something of a revelation.

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