Home-grown instrumental trio TAJ release first EP

TAJ comprise (from far left) bass player Tim De Cotta, drummer Teo Jia Rong and keyboard and piano player Audrey Tengkey.
TAJ comprise (from far left) bass player Tim De Cotta, drummer Teo Jia Rong and keyboard and piano player Audrey Tengkey.PHOTO: JOHN SIDEO T

Instrumental trio TAJ are making waves with their unique brand of 'future-soul fusion'

Some bands gel so well that the members' influence on one another go beyond music. Spacey home-grown instrumental trio TAJ, whose debut EP The Astral Journey will be released on Friday, are one such act.

"The connection between the three of us is very natural. Even if we weren't doing music, we would still be great friends. We confide in one another quite a bit, sometimes too much, even scolding one another for boyfriend and girlfriend choices," says bass player Tim De Cotta, 29, with a laugh.

TAJ, whose other members are keyboard and piano player Audrey Tengkey, 25, and drummer Teo Jia Rong, 24, are making waves with their unique brand of music they dub "future-soul fusion".

All three are familiar faces in the local music scene, having played with a variety of acts of different genres.

De Cotta comes from a hip-hop and R&B background and was part of nowdefunct band Sixx. As a musician, songwriter and producer, he has collaborated with the likes of soul singer Michaela Therese, progressive band neoDominatrix and fusion band L.A.B.

Tengkey, besides playing in her own jazz outfits 10K Quartet and 10K Trio, is also an in-demand sessionist who has played with a long list of acts including indie elders The Stoned Revivals, percussive-driven soul band NovoBloco and American YouTube star David Choi.

Teo, a regular with the Singapore Armed Forces Band, has played with prominent musicians including Aya Sekine, Christy Smith and Dawn Ho.

After getting to know one another through fellow friends and musicians, they started jamming together in 2012. Their band's name, TAJ, comes from putting together the initials of their first names.

In the same way, their music is an amalgam of their varied influences.

De Cotta says: "Growing up, we listened to a lot of different music - mainly jazz, soul, R&B and hip-hop - so when we express ourselves musically, we tend to come from that point where, to express the message, we do not limit ourselves. For example, we always start with a jazzy, funky, soul kind of riff with a groovy, hip-hop kind of beat. But to express the melody or direction of the song, we are not afraid of using some post-rock or electronica."

This means they feel greater ownership of the music they produce. Tengkey goes so far as to declare that this is the most important band she has played in.

"There is no leader, there is no one commanding anyone else in this band," she says. "We can have other projects, but, to me, TAJ is my only baby, I'll always put TAJ as my first priority. For me, TAJ is my first original band for which I write the music and everyone else in the band is involved 100 per cent."

Their upcoming EP has the distinction of being the first local and live band release from Singapore-based electronic music record label Darker Than Wax.

While its seven tracks are mostly instrumental, several tunes have vocals, including Daydream, which features vocals from Darker Than Wax co-founder and musician Kaye and opening track Taj Yo'self, in which De Cotta raps.

On Friday, the EP will be released through online music stores including iTunes, Bandcamp and SoundCloud. Physical copies on CD and vinyl will be available at a later date.

TAJ are already looking further and hope to take their music to the region and beyond.

De Cotta says: "We are planning to play some shows in Australian clubs, specifically in Melbourne in July.

"I've been there a couple of times and the scene for our kind of music is bubbling and it's more in tune with the kind of music we make than anything we have here. Scenewise, they (soul/hip-hop hybrid bands Hiatus Kaiyote and The Operatives) are leaders in the world, not just in Australia. We want to get a bit of that."

dinohadi@sph.com.sg

The Astral Journey will be released on Friday online through iTunes, Bandcamp, SoundCloud, Juno Download and Boomkat.