Drinking in sound and fury

Citrus Sun Superjam, a collaboration among jazz artists, featured musicians such as guitarist Francisco Sales from Incognito.
Citrus Sun Superjam, a collaboration among jazz artists, featured musicians such as guitarist Francisco Sales from Incognito.PHOTO: SING JAZZ



Marina Bay Sands Sands Expo and Convention Centre/Last Friday

The Singapore International Jazz Festival is into its fourth year now and, perhaps to fete its progress, its organiser has tagged on a new six-hour segment which it bills as The Late Show.

The add-on, which ran from 10pm to 4am last Friday and Saturday, had more of a clubbing vibe, so the quality of its music was not necessarily highest on its agenda.

Gig-goers tanked up on tipple from the pop-up bar and bumped into one another in near-darkness, with at least one among them spilling red wine all down the front of a fellow party animal's pristine- white blouse, much to her fury.

So no one was paying particular attention to The Late Show's inaugural opening act, the Ernesto Enriquez Trio, which consisted chiefly of the band going bongo-bonkers.

They were followed by a too-long interval, during which the chattering crowd was bombarded with all manner of advertisements, for hard liquor and soft drinks alike, on the giant screen behind the musicians.

This was not to say that the hard-sell was superfluous; the impressive line-up of festival sponsors showed it had come a long way.

Almost everyone on Friday night was there for the Earth, Wind & Fire (EWF) Experience, courtesy of the Al McKay All-Stars (McKay is a former member of EWF).

Now, whatever the other original EWF members might have conceived of and for their sweet, soulful songs, they would most likely have cocked eyebrows at the All-Stars' bulldozing approach to their legacy.

The All-Stars blasted and blared their way through a 10-song set, mowing down the EWF soundscape as if their lives depended on it. Early in the set, they mentioned that they were having technical issues without specifying what these were.

Listeners here are almost always appreciative of musicians' efforts, however mediocre they may be, but the All-Stars seemed to take the technical hitches as licence to let rip with the heaviest of hands, never mind EWF's carefully crafted musical nuances.

So whenever there was a need for a melody to lift and soar, these musicians inexplicably divebombed it in a crush of jangling chords and much caterwauling.

Thus did they murder McKay's composition After The Love Has Gone, draining the hit of its slickness and sass.

Thankfully, they fared slightly better on September, whipping up the grooves, but decided to end it abruptly, leaving many in mid-bop.

The saving grace was McKay himself, with his sure riffs and heartfelt singing but alas, he came on only twice during the set.

The crowd, for the most part, lapped it all up. Every time the band struck up, the largely middle-aged crowd took that as a cue to wallow in nostalgia, bopping enthusiastically and waving their arms about.

The All-Stars' musical crimes were exposed, ironically, by their encore.

When their rather sozzled fans roared for them to come back on stage, they proved that their playing could indeed be subtle and light as a feather.

Perhaps the crowd's adulation had sharpened their focus; they rendered McKay's hit Best Of My Love with great verve, as part of their closing medley.

What a spritz of freshness the next all-star act was, then. Citrus Sun Superjam is a collaboration among various jazz artists, led by festival favourite Incognito's Jean-Paul "Bluey" Maunick and, this evening, they invited talented singers from all over Asia to star alongside them.

Eugenia Yip flew Singapore's flag high with her beautifully modulated croon, which held its own against Citrus Sun's relentless walls of sound.

But Indonesia's Tompi towered above them all. The band got him to do a doff to the late jazzmeister Al Jarreau, who died aged 76 on Feb 12, and Tompi delivered Jarreau's We're In This Love Together in a luscious, supple voice that conveyed much hope and longing.

Tompi was a lovely segue to the night's highlight, and last act, Britain's Basement Jaxx which, alas, this reviewer could not stay for.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 03, 2017, with the headline 'Drinking in sound and fury'. Print Edition | Subscribe