THE BEST IS YET TO COME
Red Bean Entertainment
It has been seven years since Malaysian singer Nicholas Teo's last album, which produced the stirring title hit, Let's Not Fall In Love Again.
He has yet to release a full-length follow-up, though the title of this seven-track release - inclusive of an instrumental number - defiantly suggests that ballad will not be the peak of his career.
The mid-tempo number, Fish And The Bear, goes for something different by adding a sitar to the mix and tackling urban alienation instead of romance. But is the title - taken from the Chinese idiom fish and bear's paw, which means you can choose only one or the other - indicative of his conundrum as a singer: either stick to tried-and-tested balladry or head down new music paths?
Teo does both here, but it is the more familiar-sounding ballads, Tree and The Best Is Yet To Come, that leave a lasting impression.
There is a lightness and tenderness to his warm vocals as he relives memories with a loved one on the latter: "We've walked through Tokyo's wind and London's winter/Witnessed the dilapidation and prosperity of the world."
The refrain ("The best is yet to come/We still need to wait a little longer") seems to be addressed both to a significant other as well as to his fans.
Hopefully, it will not take too long for Teo to deliver.
The Manhattan Transfer
This first studio album from The Manhattan Transfer in almost 10 years is also their first since the death of founding member Tim Hauser in 2014.
After a couple of changes in the line-up in the early years, The Manhattan Transfer have retained the same members - Cheryl Bentyne, Janis Siegel and Alan Paul - for some 40 years.
Given the vocal ensemble's storied history, it is impressive how seamlessly new member bass vocalist Trist Curless fits in.
This is his first recording with the troupe and The Junction is a slick reassertion of the group's vitality as they warble their way confidently through an accessible programme, which wends through jazz, swing, gospel numbers, goosed by dance and electro beats in deft arrangements by veteran producer Mervyn Warren.
The opening track, Cantaloop (Flip Out!), is an easy take on Us3's 1993 Billboard hit that showcases the quartet's creamy vocals and laser-sharp harmonies.
Swing Balboa (Down On Riverside) takes a classic swing style and amps it up with a pulsating dance beat. The combination works surprisingly well with a jazzy trumpet melody and the singers' vocals sailing lightly over the thumping electronic beat.
Another standout track is Blues For Harry Bosch, which takes a retro-jazz number by saxophonist Grace Kelly, and boosts its noir atmosphere with radio play-style narrative and vocalese lyrics.
Slinky, easy listening that lives up to The Manhattan Transfer brand of fusion jazz.
Ong Sor Fern
MEDTNER & RACHMANINOV PIANO WORKS
Yevgeny Sudbin, Piano
A LA RUSSE
Alexandre Kantorow, Piano
Russian piano music came to prominence in the late 19th century, fuelled by nationalism and distinguished by outsized technical virtuosity schooled in the conservatories of Moscow and St Petersburg. These recordings of Russian piano music by young pianists merit serious attention.
Two pianist-composers who defined late Russian Romantic pianism, Nikolai Medtner (1880 to 1951) and Sergei Rachmaninov (1873 to 1943), receive equal billing in Russian Yevgeny Sudbin's hour-long recital. Here, Medtner's cerebral and Rachmaninov's more visceral qualities are keenly displayed. The former's single-movement Sonata Reminiscenza, Sonata Tragica and pithy short pieces called Skazki (Fairy Tales), heard alongside the latter's better-known Preludes (from Op. 23 and 32), make for a perfect introduction to their similarities and contrasts.
Frenchman Alexandre Kantorow's all-Russian recital disc is longer and has more virtuoso fodder. The longest work is Rachmaninov's First Sonata, a three-movement epic, playing for almost 40 minutes. Guido Agosti's transcription of three movements from Stravinsky's ballet Firebird and Balakirev's Islamey receive thunderous readings, tempered by the more genteel salon fare of Tchaikovsky's character pieces.
A more convincing juxtaposition of musical steel and satin will be hard to find.
Chang Tou Liang