HANDFUL OF KEYS
Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra
Blue Engine Records
One cannot imagine a livelier crash course on a century of jazz piano than this album from Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra's Blue Engine Records. Helmed with an uncompromising, some might say puritanical, vision by founding artistic director and jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, the orchestra has helped define a jazz canon over the past 30 years of its existence.
The programme here is emblematic of its academic approach, cherry picking its way through early stride piano through to the mass appeal of swing and the melodic/chordal breakthroughs of bop, bebop and beyond. The line-up of guests is similarly wide-ranging, kicking off with the jauntily effervescent stride stylings of 89-year-old living legend Dick Hyman, through to the next generation experimentations of 14-year-old Joey Alexander.
Hyman's lively delivery of James P. Johnson's bubbly Jingles, accompanied by perky saxophones burbling in energetic counterpoint, are a bright reminder of the music's dance roots, while his solo introduction to All Of Me, with his left hand thumping out a stride/bop influenced bass line as his right sketches the melody lightly, is a mini-education in the first 50 years of jazz piano.
Equally engrossing is Alexander's thoughtful take on the waltz-timed Bill Evans rarity Very Early, which plumbs Evans' ballad for sweet rather than sad notes.
Bracketed by the old and the new, other pianists such as Myra Melford and Helen Sung plug the gaps admirably with experimental and modal varietals that nonetheless emphasise the melodic qualities of jazz.
A most rewarding 61 minutes worth of music history that proves that jazz is malleable enough to withstand the test of time.
Ong Sor Fern
ERIC WATSON'S WORLD OF CHINESE MUSIC
Singapore Chinese Orchestra/Yeh Tsung
The British composer-pedagogue Eric Watson is the composer-in-residence of the Singapore Chinese Orchestra (SCO).
This unusual accolade was a culmination of sorts after Watson won first prize in the first Singapore International Competition for Chinese Orchestral Composition (2006) with his tone poem Tapestry - Time Dances, a sympathetic fusion of Western compositional technique and Chinese instrumentation with Nanyang characteristics.
His sound world is eclectic with myriad Asian influences and a popular slant without sounding derivative, which could not have been conceived by any Westerner not living in the Far East.
Six works are represented in this 65-minute capsule profile, opening with Mahjong Kakis, a jazzy and blues-inflected orchestral scherzo.
Tapestry - Time Dances and An Independent Note share a similar aesthete, the latter a collection of Lee Kuan Yew quotes recited with stentorian vigour by veteran actor Lim Kay Tong.
Dialogue for tabla and Chinese orchestra is a concerto with improvisation, featuring young tabla virtuoso Govin Tan doing the honours.
The Ceilidh and Songs Of The North are concerto for orchestra and concerto grosso respectively, using songs from the British isles to stunning effect. The latter sees Celtic fiddle, English concertina, dizi and pipa sharing the stage as solo instruments.
Such a heady combination could come only from Singapore and be performed with an irrepressible zest from the SCO.
Chang Tou Liang