Sunday, August 29, 2010

Charlie Parker Jazz Fest @ Marcus Garvey Park

Hello peepz,

I just got back not long ago from Marcus Garvey Park up on East 124th St in Harlem, where the Summerstage Charlie Parker Jazz Festival took place.  It's an annual event organized by City Parks Foundation, in tribute to Charlie Parker.. and this year it's also held in conjunction with the birthdays of Charlie Parker and Lester Young.. two great saxophone players that revolutionized the voice of the saxophone and jazz.

This free concert had three acts - Revive Da Live, JD Allen Trio, Jason Moran and the Bandwagon, and finally the headline of the evening, the great McCoy Tyner!

I only managed to get there in time to watch the start of JD Allen Trio's set (Revive Da Live was the first band to play), and like the set I watched once in Fat Cat, JD's trio was a powerhouse trio in his own right, calling upon some of the greatest tenor saxophone influences, such as Sonny Rollins as well as John Coltrane.  What was amazing was that JD didn't even stop to talk, but segued from one piece to the next, and he doesn't seem to run out of energy even after all that (virtually non-stop) playing! This is what one would describe as "letting the music speak for itself".  Being a saxophone trio, one cannot help but expect a somewhat evocative spiritual trio sound, very much in the vein of Coltrane, and perhaps some of the later tenor sax greats such as David S. Ware, David Murray, etc.  The approach focus seemed less on trying to give out as much jazz vocabulary, but more on spontaneity, melodic and rhythmic intensity, expression based on color and shapes, as well as group dialogue.  Since there was no verbal interaction with the audience, no one would know what tunes JD played, leaving us to immerse one's self in the heat of the summer sun, and the evocative nature of the music, which seemed adequate anyhow.

The second band to play was pianist Jason Moran, and his Bandwagon, with Tarus Mateen on electric bass and Nasheet Waits on drums!  This is one of the few times I actually get to see a piano trio with electric bass.  It's unusual, I think, but in this case, it was more than an exception!  The nature of Moran's playing and his music, seemed to allow non-acoustic temperament of the electric bass to enhance the sound of the trio.  Of course, it's done with absolute taste by Tarus Mateen, who used it the way it should in this set up.  It's my first time watching Nasheet Waits play, and boy was I in for a treat.  How I would describe it? Amazingly tasteful!  Rhythmic complexity and flexibility is a given, as that is Moran's style from the little I've heard of Moran's music.  But all done with great taste and precision.  This show he did something interesting, by inserting a full audio sample of recorded jazz standards of old, and had the band play along with it.  In one song, he basically played back the track of Eddie Jefferson singing the vocalese version of Coleman Hawkin's solo of Body & Soul, and the band basically played over it, like they were the musicians on that record date, but in a contemporary fashion!  This was my first time watching piano powerhouse Jason Moran live, and I hope it won't be the last!

The highlight of the evening was the solo piano performance of the great Mr. McCoy Tyner.  Before Mr. Tyner even played a single note on the piano, everyone was already standing in ovation, cheering for the legend that he is.  Mr. Tyner performed a bunch of originals such as Fly With The Wind, and also Blues on the Corner, and even played his former saxophonist bandleader's original, Mr. PC.  From this performance, one could already see the effects of old age, in Mr. Tyner's playing..  he hardly played anything at breakneck tempos, and that is to be expected... but the intensity and the soulfulness that shone brighter than the evening sun nevertheless maintained in his playing.  Oh what a blessing it was to be able to catch one performance by this jazz and piano legend!

Tomorrow's concert (Sunday 29/8) will be at Tompkins Square Park.  Not entirely sure if I'll be able to catch that one.  But if I do, I'll try to write about it.

Later, y'all.


Monday, August 23, 2010

Back in NYC, again...and a summary of summer! Part One.

Hello again,

I guess I can get the first prize for being a blog-slacker, no? LOL!  Well, all with good reason.  As the title of this post suggests, I'm back again in the Big Apple.  My last post was basically about my graduation, and basically the end of my school life.. officially, at least.

Since my last post, I had been busy hanging out with my folks during their stay in New York, then flew back to Malaysia for 2.5 months for the summer break, and now I'm back here in NYC, again.  And of course, my pilgrimage home was well-needed one, and it was not without its interesting slew of events and experiences!  But I was most pleased that I got more time to spend with my folks and with my friends, although I wished that I had more... LOL!  At least I don't hear my mom complaining too much this time 'round!

So here's a little summary of my summer break music events:

June 2010:

MPO Happy Hour - "The Duke Live in KL"

A performance of Duke Ellington's small group works led by MPO co-principal trombonist Marques Young.  This ensemble featured Marques, myself on saxophone, John Thomas (drums), Gabriel Evens (piano), and Fly (bass) featuring guest artistes Elvira Arul (vocals), Scott Thimble (tuba) and Yow Weng Wai (alto sax).  This was my debut performance in Malaysia's prestigious Philharmonic Hall, so it was quite a thrill and a small dream realized.  We performed pieces such as Cottontail, In A Sentimental Mood, Take The A Train, C Jam Blues, Just Squeeze Me, and some others.

MPYO Plays Jazz (featuring Fritz Renold & The Bostonian Friends, and the Encounter Jazz Programme)

This was definitely one of the most interesting shows I've done in a while, and also during this summer break.  I was enlisted to join the Encounter Jazz Programme (a side project of the M'sian Philharmonic Orchestra, led by MPO co-principal trombonist Marques Young), to be part of the Malaysian Philharmonic Youth Orchestra (MPYO) along with Swiss saxophonist/composer/arranger Fritz Renold and his group, The Bostonian Friends.  The Bostonian Friends consists of Randy Brecker (trumpet), Christian Jacob (piano), Reggie Hamilton (bass), Danny Gottlieb (drums) and Steve Reid (lead trumpet).  What a splendid line-up, and a dream come true for some of us jazz cats from half the world away!

After a one-and-a-half-weeks rehearsal session (one week for the EJP and the Bostonian Friends), we played at the Petronas Philharmonic Hall for two nights, presenting 3 suites: Fritz Renold's 5-movement Nusantara Suite (a world-premiere performance), and two Duke Ellington tone poems - Night Creatures and Harlem.  This concert was definitely one of the most challenging musical performance that I've done to date, playing a world premiere piece (the music was VERY challenging, to say the least!), and also trying to call the spirit of alto sax master Johnny Hodges in the Ellington pieces.  But it was an amazing and unforgettable experience, having to play great music, as well as being on the same stage with jazz greats!

July 2010:

Claude Diallo Situation Live @ No Black Tie

An amazing trio from Switzerland and France! Pianist Claude Diallo is a fellow Queens College coursemate, who graduated the semester I first got into QC.  Oddly enough we never really played together (except once when I was subbing another friend for a recital rehearsal, and a big band reading) until this two-night performance at KL jazz club No Black Tie.  Playing with Claude was bassist Laurent Salzard and drummer Massimo Buonanno.  They stayed over for the weekend and we played a lot of Claude's original compositions and arrangements and a few jazz standards.. and it was also an exciting and challenging musical experience for me, like I would always tell some of my Malaysian musician close friends: I'm totally spoiled with playing with seriously good rhythm section musicians in the US!  And needless to say, a visit to Malaysia would not be a good one without the Malaysian hospitality, we got to hang out and have some awesome Malaysian food! Nothing beats the real thing!

Junji Delfino's 50th Year Celebration Concert and "HERE I AM" Album Launch

This event was a double landmark for jazz songstress Junji "Jazzmamma" Delfino.  It's her 50th year of life, and also the release of her debut solo album "HERE I AM".

Junji booked me to play this concert with her, along with some of her closest friends and music colleagues - her husband and Malaysian jazz piano luminary David Gomes, another Malaysian jazz legend/pianist Michael Veerapen, guitarist Jordan Rivers, and the juniors Hiro Maekawa on bass, Steve Nanda on drums, Eddie Wen on trumpet/flugelhorn, and myself on saxophones.  Guest appearances include Edwin Sumun (with his alter-ego SHELAH on one of the shows), Instant Cafe Theatre founder comedienne Jo Kukathas, the "voice of Malaysia" Patrick Teoh, veteran songstress (and one of my musical "mamas") Salamiah Hassan, and up-and-coming young stand-up comedian Kuah Jenhan.

This three-nights concert was one of the most emotional concerts I've ever done, I have to say... and I really seldom get something like that.  I guess this was more than just an ordinary concert, it was a celebration of life... and it was with a group of people I would also consider as a second family.  Of course, the music also spoke for itself, and Junji definitely shone all three nights, and I was proud and blessed to be part of it.

PS: Just a plug.. GET THE ALBUM, it's a truly beautiful album! Send an email to Junji Delfino by clicking here, or on her Facebook public page to request an order from her.

August 2010:

Fung Chern Hwei "From The Heart" CD Release @ No Black Tie

This was also another musical highlight for me.  This is my 'gugu' brother, violinist/composer Fung Chern Hwei's debut CD release, called "FROM THE HEART".  We recorded this in mid-December 2009, and I played three tracks on it, as well as co-produced it.  My being a producer was a rather incidental occurence, but nevertheless, I took it on like it would be my own personal project.  As such, it was also a labour of love on my part as well, and I am blessed and proud to be part of this.  This album consist of five piano duo tracks (with Chern Hwei and Francesca Han on piano), two jazz ensemble tracks (with the addition of myself on saxophones, Jeremy Harman on cello, and Jens Ellerhold on drums), and one classical quartet piece (with Chern Hwei, myself, Francesca, and Jeremy) - a Robert Schumann piece Andante Cantabile re-arranged by Chern Hwei.  With exception of the Schumann piece, everything else were original compositions by Chern Hwei and one original by Francesca.

The CD release concert at No Black Tie featured Chern Hwei, myself, the inimitably tasteful Justin Lim on piano (one of the best musical pianists in Malaysia, if not the best), John Thomas on drums, Fly on double bass, and featuring Elizabeth Tan on cello.  It was probably also my first performance playing a classical piece, as we also played the Schumann piece we recorded!  Definitely a memorable musical highlight of the summer.

PS: Another plug... if you're interested in getting Fung Chern Hwei "FROM THE HEART" CD, send Chern Hwei an email here! Do get it, it's an amazing album, that showcases a truly Malaysian talent!

That's it for now, stay tuned for the second instalment of my summer break.

Part Two.. coming soon!