Penang Island Jazz Festival: Malaysia, December 2-5, 2010
This trio is, however, very much a sum of its parts and the interplay between Brouwer and Bhattcharya, whether trading konnakol vocals or engaging in lightening instrumental passages of tremendous precision and power, was riveting. Their musical language bore comparison to that of guitarist John McLaughlin and tablaist Zakir Hussain; in effect, Boi Akih is akin to a stripped down version of Shakti, though Brouwer brings an African color to his strings which is absent from McLaughlin's playing.
A new composition featured a mantra-like riff from Brouwer over which Bhattcharya executed a stunning table solo. "Sunset" brought a wonderfully vibrant set to its conclusion with the three musicians center stage, singing in the same close harmony that emanated from their playing.
Azerbaijan is better known for its oil wealth than for its jazz, though the increasingly cosmopolitan nature of the capital Baku may provide the seeds for the development of jazz by the Black Sea. Saxophonist Rain Sultanov is the leading jazz figure from Azerbaijan Republic and has performed with trumpeter Kenny Wheeler and pianist Bobo Stenson. His quartet gave a highly tuned performance of varied pace and undulating intensity with the leader's meaty tenor voice at the center.
The opening number, "City of Jazz" had a Michael Brecker-ish feel to it, with the rhythm section of bassist Rusian Huseynov and drummer Ramin Sultanov buoyant. Pianist Elchin Shirinov's explorative playing was equally propulsive. The slower "Memories of Baku" featured a decidedly delicate touch on piano from the impressive Shriinov accompanied by wonderfully resonant bass lines. "Island of Jazz"a new composition named on the spot and dedicated to the people of Penangwas baptized with some lively group interplay which took the quartet out on a high and to great applause.
PELbO, from left: Ine Hoern, Chris Lo
Without a doubt, one of the most exciting performances of the 7th edition of the Penang Island Jazz festivaland perhaps the most unorthodoxcame from Norwegian three-piece PELbO, winners of the coveted Nordic Jazz Comets Competition in '09. The tuba is not uncommon in the progressive music scene in Norway but few attack it with such boppish ferocity as Chris Lo. In between playing, he prowled the stage with seeming intent, like a caged tiger, and leapt off stacks of stage equipment. He brought a punk rock energy to the set and it wouldn't have been too much of a surprise had he trashed his tuba like Pete Townsend of The Who did with his guitar. Drummer Trond Bersu added to the spectacle by thrashing his sizeable kit with a polyrhythmic fury worthy of a young Carl Palmer.
Vocalist Ine Hoern was a charismatic presence herself, threading her pure-toned voice through a loop board and providing stark contrast to Lo and Bersu's frenetic jazz-rock. This is a trio which defies attempt at categorization; one minute the bell of Lo's tuba was howling into the percussive avalanche of Bersu's drums, like saxophonist John Coltrane going toe-to-toe with drummer Rashied Ali, and the next minute Hoern was singing a gentle ballad, accompanying herself on the softly plucked kalimba. PELbO gave out a great deal of energy and received it back from an audience which is clearly open to such experimental music.
It took seven years for the Penang Island Jazz festival to tempt guitarist Tommy Emmanuel to perform here and there was a palpable excitement among staff and public alike in the days leading up to the concert. Emmanuel's workshop that afternoon had fairly packed the Bayview Hotel Ballroom where the Australian guitar legend demonstrated his finger picking style. Emmanuel also spoke of his early mentor, guitarist Chet Atkins, whom he had first heard on the radio as an eight year-old, an experience which was clearly the defining moment of his life. Emmanuel carries on a rich tradition which stretches back beyond Atkins and Merle Travis to Arnold Schwarz, a black Kentucky coal miner who is credited with developing the finger picking style which Emmanuel has taken to new heights.
Watching Emmanuel's incredible technique it was tempting to conclude that his talent is innate, yet he reminded a host of aspiring young guitarist at his workshop that it all stems from long hours of practice. When asked by one youngster how he manages to play when he has blisters he replied: "If you get blisters you're not playing enough. I play with my calluses."