A heady night of jazz by a Chinese orchestra



Singapore Chinese Orchestra

Singapore Conference Hall/ Last Saturday

Once in a while, the Singapore Chinese Orchestra (SCO), led by Yeh Tsung, goes out of its comfort zone to perform jazz.

There was an evening of mostly Gershwin in 2013, but this year's offering felt closer to home, with the Roaring Twenties in Shanghai, China, or the Paris of the East, as its theme.

A misty air hung over the hall, which was swathed in burgundy drapes and illuminated by crystal chandeliers to conjure the feeling of exoticism and decadence.

Yeh, ever the dapper dresser, leapt onto the podium to conduct Law Wai Lun's Old Shanghai, the jazzy prelude to music written to accompany the black-and-white classic movie The Goddess (1934).

This concert of short works and classic standards showcased the talents of Chinese jazz singer Coco Zhao and trumpeter Li Xiaochuan. They were backed by the locally based trio of pianist Chok Kerong, drummer Tamagoh and bassist Christy Smith, who all had solo moments in the spotlight.

The orchestrations by Law and Eric Watson were so idiomatic as to render the so-called cultural divide a non sequitur.

Many popular Chinese songs were adapted from originals in English, including Gei Wo Yi Ge Wen (Give Me A Kiss) by Earl and Alden Shuman, which was sung first.

Zhao is an entertainer who puts one immediately at ease with his satin-smooth vocals, often raising the bar with spots of ad-libbing and extemporisation.

Never wont to over-extend himself, he left the heavy lifting to the unassuming Li, whose musings with a muted instrument were bluesy, but soon rose to a full-blooded ring in the highest registers.

Together, they courted and charmed the audience in Chen Ruizhen's nostalgic Huai Nian (Yearning) and Chen Gexin's very familiar Night In Shanghai.

On his own, Li lit up the stage in Glenn Miller's Moonlight Serenade and Frank Foster's Shiny Stockings, more well-loved music where the spirit of swing and big band was well captured by soloist and orchestra.

In Li's own Reunion, he was joined by SCO's Tan Man Man (erhu) and Han Lei (guan) in a heady triple concerto act. For sheer intensity, the smouldering blues of Miles Davis' Flamenco Sketches in slow bolero-rhythm was a hard act to follow.

Yeh also related his own connections with jazz, including growing up in Shanghai and being a distant relation to composer Yan Hua, whose Blossom Under The Full Moon was performed.

The final number was Jon Hendricks' I Want Your Love, better known in its Chinese version as Wo Yao Ni De Ai, which roused an unusually boisterous audience into full participation.

The concertgoers were treated to two encores, What A Little Moonlight Can Do, and a reprise of Give Me A Kiss, before consenting to disperse after what had been a heady evening.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 30, 2018, with the headline 'A heady night of jazz by a Chinese orchestra'. Print Edition | Subscribe