Penang Island Jazz Festival: Malaysia, December 2-5, 2010
A medley of Beatles numbers got the set off to a lively start and was followed by Emmanuel's interpretations of songs by Merle Travis and Elvis Presley. The swagger in Emmanuel's stage presence is his inner metronome marking time and rhythmically he's about as swinging a guitarist as you'll find. His incredibly fast runs and percussive accompaniment brought whoops and cheers from the crowd not for nothing was Emmanuel voted "Best Acoustic Guitarist 2010," by Guitar Player Magazine. He slowed things down a little with a delightful version of "Somewhere over the Rainbow" and his own compositions, "Haba Na Haba" from Little by Little (Favored Nation Records, 2010) and "Those Who Wait" revealed a sensitive composer.
The anticipated incendiary playing that had characterized much of the set was laid aside for the set closer, a softly voiced rendition of John Lennon's "Imagine" to mark the 30th anniversary of his murderand, with the crowd in fine voice, to celebrate his timeless music.
The unenviable task of following Emmanuel's blistering, roof-raising performance and of bringing the festival top a close fell to ZHAN, a young jazz quartet which was making its international debut. Bassist Rozhan Razman and drummer John Thomas have been playing together for more than a decade and they formed a dynamic, deeply grooving rhythm section in an energetic set of post-bop jazz which was as compelling for the arrangements as it was for the strong collective and individual playing.
Pianist/keyboardist Rie Tsuji was outstanding; a highly versatile musician, Tsuji is a classically trained pianist who currently plays in Beyonce's band. As she demonstrated with her exciting, free-flowing solos and intelligent comping, jazz is another idiom in which she feels completely at home. Saxophonist Nicole Duffel also impressed as a soloist with a personal voice, free of cliché.
A group of aspiring young drummers gathered at the front right-hand side of the stage behind the speaker stack to observe Thomas's playing up close. His drum solo in the middle of "The Enemy" was a model of imagination and panache, and it was easy to see why he is one of the most sought-after drummers on Malaysia.
A set of striking originals climaxed with a fresh take on saxophonist Wayne Shorter's "Footprints"' which moved between slow impressionistic movement to a powerful funk-based groove, with Tsuji and Duffel stretching out in uninhibited manner. The crowd had thinned out a tad following Emmanuel's set, but more fool those who thought the festival had reached its climax with the Australian finger picker, for ZHAN surely rose to the occasion and delivered a storming performance worthy of festival headliners.
ZHAN, from left: Rie Tsuji, Rozhan Razman, Nicole Duffel
With record crowds over the four days the Penang Island Jazz Festival has perhaps turned a corner in its efforts to establish itself. Certainly, the festival stands alone in its committed effort to promote Malaysian musicians, not only in the fringe program but on the main stage as well. In just a few short years it has earned a reputation as an important festival on the regional calendar, and, with nothing comparable in Kuala Lumpur, Penang can arguably lay claim to being the nation's jazz capital. The eclectic mixture of small combo jazz, Big Band Jazz, fringes of jazz experimentation, roots music, and, the wholly unpredictable, mean that the Penang Island Jazz Festivalseven years young can also stake a reasonable claim to being the premier musical event in Malaysia, and one worth traveling for.
Page 1, Top: Wong Horng Yih
Page 1, Bottom: Anusha Peterson Page 2: Adam Chew
Page 3: Top Photo: Jerome Quah
Page 3, Bottom Photo: Anusha Peterson
Page 4: Anusha Peterson Page 5: Top Photo: Anusha Peterson
Page 5, Bottom Photo: Courtesy of www.wartajazz.com
Page 6: Sanjiv Daevin
Page 7, Top Photo: Adam Chew
Page 7, Bottom Photo: Anusha Peterson