Penang Island Jazz Festival: Malaysia, December 2-5, 2010
A pleasing aspect of the Penang Island Jazz Festival 2010 was the diversity of its acts, and next up was the SC Yun Trio from South Korea with its contemporary piano trio jazz offering. Jazz is enjoying something of a revival in South Korea judging by the number of bandsparticularly piano triosthat have sprung up in recent years and given the phenomenal success of the Jarasum International Jazz Festival.
From left: SC Yun, Kim Yeong Jin, Kim In Young
Though drawing on jazz traditionthe trio opened with a lively interpretation of pianist Thelonious Monk's "Evidence"there was a quite contemporary edge to Yun's approach, with the leader alternating between acoustic and electric piano. With Kim In Young on bass and Kim Yeong Jin on drums attacking the music, there was a dynamic forward momentum to the interplay which generated much excitement. Yun is an original pianist, largely roaming the middle and lower end of the piano, his two hands rarely straying far apart. His curious tendency to avoid the higher registers of the keyboard in no way limits his playing; on the contrary, he mines the middle and lower end of the keyboard with fertile imagination and great touch, captivating with both his finesse and his attack.
A fine set closed with the self-penned "The Show Must Go On," with Yun leading on electric piano over a lovely funk groove from the ever alert Kim In Young and Kim Yeong Jin. Yun is an obvious talent and this trio is clearly one to watch closely in the future.
The wonderfully named Electric Barbarian sent a few ripples of surprise through the crowd with its avant-garde mixture of urban beat poetry, turntable jiggery pokery, and a deep techno-funk groove. There was plenty of energy in the performance although the pace and dynamics varied little. Lead singer Luanda Casella cut a striking figure with her sexy, quasi robotic dance moves which at one inexplicable point included a rather ordinary exhibition of hula hooping. Casella's fast-paced stories recited in Portuguese were the focal point of the music and were reminiscent of singer Gil Scot Heron for their rhythmic quality.
George Pascal's trumpet brought a softer, rounder tone to the music and although a small section of the crowd at the front of the stage were totally seduced by the hard-edged, danceable grooves the majority of the crowd seemed a little nonplussed by the performance. Later that evening in the intimate setting of the Celsius pub, Casella, backed by her sidemen, gave a compelling vocal improvisationthis time in Spanishsuggesting that Electric Barbarian communicates much better in a club environment.
Stouxingers, from left: Michael Eimann, Khatarina Debus Konrad Zeiner, Karsten Muller, Thomas Piontek, Gregorio Hernandez
The Stouxingers' main stage performance at the Penang Island Jazz Festival held the audience captive from first polyphonic chord to last. The rousing, swinging set largely resembled that of the G Spot club performance two nights previously, but this time unencumbered by sound glitches. The Beatles' "All My Loving," and Prince's "Sign of the Times" featured complex though enchanting arrangements. The physical choreography of the band was an important part of the show, both from the technical point of view of realizing voice combinations and for the delightful comic touches that permeated the music, particularly on "Funkjoe." The band was clearly enjoying itself and between numbers founder Michael Eimann declared: "We feel like we're on holiday," a testament to the relaxed, family-and-friends nature of a festival which has as much to do with the organization and running of the event as it has the idyllic location, set between rolling hills covered in tropical vegetation and white beach lapped by blue sea.
Whether singing a ballad, as on the lovely adaptation of the William Shakespeare sonnet "Shall I Compare thee to a Summer's Day?," or funking it up on "Jungle Boogie," the Stouxingers' rather special chemistry resulted in a potent, intoxicating musical brew which was technically jaw-dropping and downright enjoyable in equal measure.