Showmanship drowns out true virtuosos

The Sammo Hung-like Trumpeterconductor Eric Miyashiro (above) on his trumpet.
The Sammo Hung-like Trumpeterconductor Eric Miyashiro (above) on his trumpet.PHOTO: JACK YAM/ESPLANADE
Singaporean crooner Nathan Hartono (above) was allowed only two songs.
Singaporean crooner Nathan Hartono (above) was allowed only two songs.PHOTO: JACK YAM/ESPLANADE

Gifted Singaporean crooner and Japanese saxophonists not given opportunity to shine in this anniversary gig

REVIEW / CONCERT

BLUE NOTE TOKYO ALL-STAR JAZZ ORCHESTRA

Esplanade Concert Hall/Sunday

Eighteen Japanese jazzmeisters on stage at once is an occasion, and as they were celebrating their country's top musical instrument maker Yamaha Music (Asia)'s 50th anniversary, listeners would have very high expectations indeed.

Trumpeter, conductor and tune arranger Eric Miyashiro, with his shock of platinum hair, was a fitting icon to this well-oiled, turbo- charged outfit, which blasted its way through a 90-minute set of 13 songs, including two encores.

The musicians seemed unapologetically in favour of showmanship, sometimes at the expense of virtuosity. The exceptions were its uniformly excellent trombonists Eijiro Nakagawa, Yoichi Murata, Satoshi Sano and Junko Yamashiro.

Time stopped when baritone saxophonist Dairo Miyamoto took centre stage with his exquisite squiggles of toasty, assured sound on Antonio Carlos Jobim's Girl From Ipanema. Miyamoto's musical instincts recalled the less-is-more genius of compatriot Ryuichi Sakamoto.

Just as good, if less lyrical, was the ebullient alto saxophonist Masato Honda. The gig would have been unforgettable if he and Miyamoto had been allowed more solos.

Singer Asako Toki joined them on the fourth to seventh numbers. Alas, her straight, flat delivery and bell-like earnestness bordered on the amateurish, especially on Stevie Wonder's Sir Duke and Girl From Ipanema. The band seemed to agree, all but drowning her out with attacking flares.

Yet Toki performed longer than the night's second featured singer, Nathan Hartono, a gifted crooner with intelligent interpretations. He was allowed only two songs, the second of which, Reasons by Earth, Wind & Fire, Miyashiro chose for him. The dreary tune was like a throwaway first draft of Earth's After The Love Has Gone and was a disservice to the valiant singer.

The Singaporean reasserted himself gallantly in his duet with Toki on Charlie Chaplin's Smile, the first encore.

Having urged listeners to "shut your iPhones" and support live music, the Sammo Hung-like Miyashiro then mused: "Whether you are white, yellow, green or purple, music is a part of life from our birth to our passing, please stay true with music and have a wonderful life."

"That sounds kind of strange," he then checked himself, as the audience dissolved in laughter.

The band then blistered through Pat Metheny's Song For Bilbao, with its wondrous demon drummer Tappi Iwase and uber-cool bassist Koichi Osamu coming to the fore amid Miyashiro's off-the-charts parps. They ended as they had begun, in abyss-like licks and burps, to a second standing ovation.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 17, 2016, with the headline 'Showmanship drowns out true virtuosos'. Print Edition | Subscribe