Concert review: Jazz pianist Jeremy Monteiro, the academic, romancer and raver

The OMM Prom is an annual themed concert by the Orchestra of the Music Makers (OMM) held at Esplanade Concert Hall in which shorter, popular pieces of music are performed for audiences possibly encountering symphonic classical music for the first time. Its Saturday afternoon slot is family-friendly, and low ticket prices ensure that most Proms are sold out by the time the music starts.

This year's edition, entitled Jazz! and conducted by Chan Tze Law yesterday afternoon, celebrated the legacy of symphonic jazz, a term which may loosely refer to Afro-American styled popular music often employing the blues idiom written by serious composers.

Consistent with the SG50 celebrations, Singaporean composer and Cultural Medallion recipient Kelly Tang's jazz piano concerto received its first performance in a version for western orchestra. Tang's Montage was composed for jazz piano legend Jeremy Monteiro in 2010, but its original orchestration was for Chinese orchestra.

The work and its 2014 revision was ecstatically received in the Singapore Chinese Orchestra's concert tour of China, and this version cements its place in the local canon of concertante works.

Unlike Gershwin's Rhapsody In Blue and Concerto In F, which are fully scored for piano and orchestra, Montage is a jazz concerto in the truest sense, because the soloist is given the latitude to improvise as he pleases for a large part of the work.

Although Monteiro was seen shifting reams of paper as he played, much of these were blank sheets, opportune moments for him to weave a spell on his keyboard.

This reviewer has heard this work on multiple occasions, and every performance has been different, mostly because the master had chosen to vary his tact on the occasion, either by ornamentation, dynamics or whatever caught his fancy.

This freedom also applied to his trio of partners, bassist Christy Smith and drummer Tamagoh, who had their own spiels under the spotlight.

The first movement was in sonata form, contrasted by the slow movement's interlude, with Samuel Phua's sensuous soprano saxophone solo replacing the original erhu. The finale's Caribbean-flavoured dance was an infectious and irrepressible expression of pure joy.

Thus Montage may be viewed as three different portraits of Monteiro - the academic, the romancer and the raver.

The concert opened with the suite from John Kander's musical Chicago, distinguished by Kenneth Lun's highly evocative trumpet solos and nifty moves with the wah-wah mute.

Of a similar inspiration was Shostakovich's Suite For Variety Orchestra, a selection of dances from the Russian's movie music recycled as "jazz", culminating with the saxy strains of the Waltz (from The First Echelon), which graced Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut.

The young orchestra was clearly enjoying itself in these light-hearted trifles, but it got serious again in George Gershwin's An American In Paris, the closest thing he wrote to a symphonic poem.

This was taken at a slick and goodly pace which contributed to the hustle and bustle of this masterpiece. Despite the tricky cross rhythms and frequent abrupt shifts in dynamics, the orchestra more than coped and when have the taxi-horns sounded more in tune than this?

The vociferous applause was rewarded with the drums of Tamagoh and the big band in Louis Prima's Sing, Sing, Sing (With A Swing), popularised by Benny Goodman. One will not get more jazzy than this.

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