New albums by Ivana Wong, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and Kam Ning

On the album opener Starry Sky, Hong Kong singer-actress Ivana Wong croons intimately: "A dream is like plucking a star or plucking starlight, is it a question or an answer/What's fake becomes real, what's real panics."

She teases apart dualities and finds riddles and conundrums. The song itself is always beguiling, with the pairing of Lin Xi's probing lyrics and her pretty tune.

The surprising number starts as a piano ballad and then veers into electronica territory as her voice is manipulated and distorted. She is so confident of it that the second track is a piano-accompanied version that highlights the tenderness and yearning in her voice. It has been some time since such an enchanting Cantopop ballad came along.

We They is another collaboration with Lin in which dichotomies are dissected to intriguing effect: "How does grey judge black and white/How does the middle critique left and right/Who are we, who are they/Who's knocking at the door, who's willing to answer."

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The album feels a little too sprawling at 14 tracks and the narrative of Minor Surgery, for one, feels a little out of place. Included as well are a handful of Mandarin tracks, including the lilting Zhi Hu Zhe Ye (All Greek To Me).

While the title suggests that it is either one or the either, this record proves that Wong can make music that engages both the heart and the head.

  • ASIAN POP


  • MUCH FEELING LITTLE THINKING

    Ivana Wong

    Media Asia Music

    3.5/5 stars

Boon Chan


The incantatory title of this album evokes three jazz greats: trumpeter/singer Louis Armstrong, saxophonist/singer Louis Jordan and trumpeter/bandleader Louis Prima.

  • JAZZ


  • LOUIE LOUIE LOUIE

    Big Bad Voodoo Daddy

    Savoy

    4/5 stars

Big band ensemble Big Bad Voodoo Daddy's new album, curated from the extensive discographies of these three music legends, roves far and wide from the hot blues of Basin Street Blues and Nawlins swing of Struttin' With Some Barbecue to the pop silliness of Ain't Nobody Here But Us Chickens and crowdpleasing nonsense of Choo Choo Ch'Boogie.

The 24-year-old troupe, led by singer Scotty Morris and founded on the sturdy swing arrangements of pianist Joshua Levy, have outlived all of their neo-swing contemporaries. And it is easy to hear why in this relaxed album. Though still lined wall to wall with toe-tapping swing, the keynote of this programme is, gasp, mellow.

Instead of the full-bore, machine-gun assault that defined their early albums such as their 1994 eponymous debut, Louie Louie Louie offers warm, confident swing that sometimes slows down for moments of sweet introspection or mischievous play.

Listen to the comical exchange on Oh, Marie, where saxophonist Karl Hunter tries to keep up with Morris' improvised scatting until a parping misstep prompts the latter to comment, "Hey now, I'm not so sure that's Italian", drawing a chortle from the former.

Numbers such as Jump, Jive 'N Wail and Choo Choo Ch'Boogie might once have given the band an excuse for energetic barnstorming. But now, the musicians show a low-key technical mastery and tight control of rhythms that keep the music bubbling with energy, but never tipping over into frenetic.

Superb music-making proves this ensemble are maturing nicely into their jazz roots without losing the pop-friendly approach that made them a hit in the first place.

Ong Sor Fern


Prize-winning Singaporean violinist Kam Ning has been busy in the recording studio. These two recordings released by the Dutch label Etcetera amply display her abilities as chamber musician and orchestra leader.

  • CLASSICAL


  • WORKS FOR VIOLIN & PIANO

    Kam Ning, violin

    Liebrecht Vanbeckevoort, piano

    Etcetera 1582

    5/5 stars


    TCHAIKOVSKY SERENADE FOR STRINGS

    D'HAENE WAAR CONRAETS IS TURNER

    Het Kammerorkest Brugge/ Kam Ning

    Etcetera 1531

    4.5/5 stars

The first is a recital disc highlighting her incisive yet sensitive playing and, ultimately, lovely string tone. The three contrasted works have a common factor: a fond look back at past musical traditions.

Mendelssohn's very congenial Violin Sonata In F Major, a throwback to Mozart, makes an excellent prelude to Stravinsky's Suite Italienne. The latter comprises dance movements from his ballet Pulcinella, which recycled music from Baroque composers Pergolesi and others. Prokofiev's retrospective and melodically driven Violin Sonata No. 2 provides a sure-fire virtuosic conclusion.

Kam Ning also leads the Het Kammerorkest from Brugge, Belgium, to great success. The rarity is Belgian composer Rafael D'Haene's concerto for two violins and string orchestra, Waar Conraets Is Turner, three movements of tonal modernism inspired by impressionist paintings by Belgian impressionist Jean Conraets. Sounding both strident and ethereal, the work brings to mind Tippett's Fantasia Concertante On Corelli and Bartok's Divertimento.

As a final treat, Tchaikovsky's Serenade For Strings, a perennial favourite, reminds one and all why string music is so beloved.

Chang Tou Liang

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 28, 2017, with the headline 'Hot Tracks'. Print Edition | Subscribe