The merging of jazz and Asian folk idioms is gradually becoming more common, though most typically in Indonesia and South Korea. Thailand's rich folkloric tradition has been overlooked by Thai jazz musicians, who tend to favour American jazz standards. Until now, that is. Two of a Kind
sees pianist Sunny Rattana and singer Natt Buntita visit traditional Thai folk songs/poems through a jazz prism, ably supported by bassist Tae Siriwat and drummer Hong Chanutr Tetchatanannaall jazz instructors at Bangkok's Silpakorn University. Original compositions inspired by Thai traditions and a couple of jazz standards round out this mixed bag of a 2-CD set.
The first CD sees Buntita switch between Thai vocals, wordless singing and scat. Possessing a fine voice with range and nuance, Buntita's non-syllabic improvisations, notably on the traditional song "Bats Eats Banana," evoke the keening melancholy of the saw duang
, the bowed string instrument of Thai folk music. Her clacker-cum-shaker percussion-balls lend a distinctive rhythmic quality to "Chang," a breezy homage to Thailand's elephants, featuring Rattana's light, dancing piano runs. The pianist's soloing has the precision befitting one classically trained, and his fluid glissandi and circling patterns in the upper registers, particularly on the mellifluous "Kiss," evoke elements of Ahmad Jamal
. That said, the general lack of left-hand, lower register impetus renders his improvisations somewhat slight at times.
Dissonance and angularity has little place in Thai popular music and here the melodious traits of the South East Asian country's popular songs infuse Buntita's delivery on the brushes-driven ballads "Chun Ja Fun Teung Te," complete with layered strings, courtesy of violinist Volt Witchuporn, and "Nokkamin." The lovely "Krai Nor" features pockets of swing and pianist virtuosity; Siriwat and Hong are empathetic rhythmic partners, though the drummer is rarely called upon to display the full range of his vocabulary, so vividly expressed in the Asian Jazz All-Stars Power Quartet
The slow grooves and graceful vocal of "Loy Krathong," which conjures the beautiful full-moon Thai ritual of floating a candle-lit, flower-laden basket of banana leaves along a river, buoy an extended solo from Rattana, lyrical, flowing and blues laced. Bangkok alto saxophone legend Koh Mr. Saxman enlivens the swinging "Mong Arai" over fast-walking bass, bustling drums and jagged piano chords, with Rattana responding with his most animated, propulsive playing of the set. Bowed bass, Thai vocal and delicate piano combine on the atmospheric "The Poem of Thai Foods and desserts by King Rama II."
The second CD features mostly Rattana's more overtly jazz-inflected originals, sung by Buntita in English. The rhythmically jaunty "Passion" and "Away"album highlightsboth occupy the sort of musical terrain occupied by Olivia Trummer
. The Richard Rogers/Lorenz Hart standard "The Blue Room" is a little limp, whereas the quartet's stamp is altogether more personal, and thus more convincing, on Joseph Kosma/Johnny Mercer's "Autumn Leaves." Most original arrangement, arguably, is that reserved for "Mang E Hoom," a traditional Thai song given a lively, modal jazz and rich harmonic workover. On "Madam Sherbet" guest guitarist Dan Phillips
engages in zippy unison lines with Buntita and Rattana in turn, before unleashing a typically fiery, mazy solo.
There's plenty to admire in Rattana and Buntita's lyrical exploration of the nexus between jazz and Thai folk. It's an impressive debut on multiple levels and an augury of greater adventures to come. It feels as though they've discovered the seam. Deeper excavations, hopefully, lie ahead.
CD 1: Chang; Kiss; Krai Nor; Chun Ja Fun Teung Ter; Loy Krathong; Nokkamin; Mong Arai; The Poem of Thai Foods and Deserts by Kin g Rama II; Bats Eat Banana.
CD 2: Passion; Forever; Away; Alright; Blue Room; Autumn Leaves; Found; Mang E Hoom; Madam Sherbet.
Sunny Rattan Wongsansern: piano, composer, arranger; Hong Chanutr Techatananan: drums; Tae Siriwat Pliansanthia: acoustic bass; Natt Buntita Prachamorn: vocals, percussion; Koh Mr. Saxman: alto saxophone; Dan Phillips: electric guitar; Volt Witchiporn Jingjit: violin.