Hot Tracks

Since winning the Golden Melody Award for Best Newcomer for his debut album Model (2013), China's Li Ronghao has been in more demand as a songwriter than before.

Recent compositions by him include Leo Ku's Monster as well as Jacky Xue Zhiqian's Ugly Freak. He has also found time to write for his own record, although one wonders if he might be stretched a little too thin.

While the tracks here are not as immediately arresting as the singles from Model and his follow-up self-titled album in 2014, there is still a thoughtfulness to the songs that comes through on closer listening.

  • ASIAN POP

    AN IDEAL

    Li Ronghao

    Warner Music Taiwan

    3.5 stars

Wild Animals, with lyrics by Hong Kong's famed Wyman Wong, employs vivid imagery to depict the savage nature of relationships: "His bones are crushed, you fight poison with poison/In the face of love, we won't just give in."

Full House finds Li in a reflective mood as he contemplates the search for one's identity, while on Father And Mother, he sings a touching tribute to his parents.

An Ideal might not be perfect, but Li remains a compelling singer-songwriter nonetheless.

Boon Chan


  • HIP-HOP

    KHALIFA

    Wiz Khalifa

    Atlantic Records, Rostrum Records and Taylor Gang Records

    3 stars

This is a Wiz Khalifa album we are talking about, so no prizes for guessing who -or what - the main muse of his sixth album is.

The new work is, for the most part, the American rapper's ode to marijuana. It is a drug he loves so much that he announced plans last week to sell his own brand of cannabis.

Khalifa, comprising 13 tracks, has excessive references to "rolling a J up" and how the 28-year-old loves getting high. Some of the lines and beats are, well, addictive.

Bake Sale ("I got flowers, wax, inhalers, edibles/All s**t you never saw/And it's all at my bake sale/Roll another one, help me think well") can be considered the party anthem of this album, given Khalifa's laid-back vibe.

The Pittsburgh rapper does not have an aggressive style of spitting, so it is a pretty chilled-out album.

If you stick around for more other than Khalifa waxing lyrical about drugs, there are good bits.

His three-year-old son is featured on Zoney. How sweet it is when Sebastian parrots what his father says against the backdrop of a lullaby beat.

On Call Waiting - the best song on the album - Khalifa tries singing and succeeds in getting you to dance with a breezy track about him waiting for a girl to dial his line.

Natasha Ann Zachariah


  • CLASSICAL

    BRAHMS. SCHUMANN. MAHLER PIANO QUARTETS

    Daniel Hope, Paul Neubauer, David Finckel and Wu Han

    Deutsche Grammophon 479 4609

    4.5 stars

The piano quartet, formed by piano, violin, viola and cello, runs the risk of becoming almost obsolete.

That is because many composers opt for the smaller and more economical forces of a piano trio or plump for the fuller sounds of a piano quintet.

This well-filled disc from live concerts of The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center gathers three of the best piano quartets in the medium's relatively small repertoire.

Gustav Mahler's Piano Quartet In A Minor (1876) is a student work in a compact single movement. A far cry from his monumental symphonies, it is a product of late Romanticism with full-blown passion and pathos on display.

Robert Schumann's Piano Quartet In E Flat Major (1842) is shorter and less well-known than his Piano Quintet. There is a Beethovenian touch with its masterly development of simple themes and is graced by an exquisitely beautiful slow movement.

Johannes Brahms' Piano Quartet No. 1 In G Minor (1861) is an established classic. It is symphonic in scope and closes with a rowdy Hungarian-styled Rondo in the best gypsy tradition.

British violinist Daniel Hope and his partners - violist Paul Neubauer, cellist David Finckel and pianist Wu Han - are vividly recorded, making this album one to remember and treasure.

Chang Tou Liang


  • JAZZ

    JAZZ JAMAICA

    Ernest Ranglin

    Dub Store Records

    5 stars

Still hot after 50 years

The cover looks bland to the point of boring. But the content on this newly re-released 1965 recording is sizzling hot.

Jamaican guitarist Ernest Ranglin is one of those brilliant, underrated musicians who earned his bread and butter as a journeyman on early international pop hits such as My Boy Lollipop. But it is in recordings such as this one, done for Jamaica's Federal Records label, that his clean, bright articulation, laser- sharp fingering and omnivorous blend of everything from bebop and ska to reggae and rhythm 'n' blues, shone brightest.

From the opening, Sly Mongoose, with its waltz time and time signature experiments a la Dave Brubeck's Time Out album, Ranglin and his quartet are smoking.

While there is a dire lack of liner notes, it is likely that the line-up here includes fellow Jamaican jazz stalwarts - pianist wunderkind Leslie Butler and drummer Carl Mcleod - with whom Ranglin recorded two other Federal Records albums.

The tight musicianship is jaw-dropping. Listen to the duet section on Sly Mongoose as Butler doodles classical scales while Ranglin finger-picks his way through an improv melody with minimum vibration despite the evident intimacy of the microphone set-up.

From there, it just gets better. Among the standouts, the astonishing Water Come To Me Eye, where the deceptive Bach-like piano opening notes give way to driving samba dance rhythms before the quartet dives into bouncy bebop.

This genre mash-up is, quite simply, awesome music-making that still speaks volumes 50 years after it was made.

Ong Sor Fern

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 10, 2016, with the headline 'Hot Tracks'. Print Edition | Subscribe