Jam Hsiao's new solo album, Django Festival AllStars and piano duo Carles Lama and Sofia Cabruja

Clockwise from top: Reflection of desire by Jam Hsiao, Attitude Manouche by The Diango Festival AllStars, Goyescas In New York Piano Duo by Carles & Sofia.
Clockwise from top: Reflection of desire by Jam Hsiao, Attitude Manouche by The Diango Festival AllStars, Goyescas In New York Piano Duo by Carles & Sofia. PHOTO: WARNER MUSIC TAIWAN, FACEBOOK/DL MEDIA, KNS CLASSICAL



Jam Hsiao

Warner Music Taiwan

3.5 stars

After two albums with his rock band Lion, Taiwan's Jam Hsiao releases his first solo album in four years.

The lead radio-friendly single Let Me Sing A Love Song For You comes with a schmaltzy chorus of "Let me sing a love song for you/Let me say I love you".

It is not quite a reflection of the album as a whole though.

A tease of tinkling ivories and then a blaze of electronic guitars on opener Leather Bag reaffirm the singer's penchant for dramatic pop-rock. Channelling the late rocker Freddie Mercury, Hsiao's falsetto is almost operatic when he trills: "I burn, I start to burn/Cutting the fat, like getting whipped".

The synth title track written by sodagreen frontman Wu Ching-feng has some intriguing imagery as well: "New heaven, strangely nervous, what lies should be realised".

Also of interest here is a duet between Hsiao and Yoga Lin, who both took part in the inaugural season of the television singing competition One Million Star in 2007.

I Like You So Much, with lyrics by Lin and music by the two of them, is a sweet ode to friendship that stands the test of time: "I like living in your heart so much/Must be because you like to put me in your heart/Let time hasten farewells, dispersals/So what if we return to our own busy lives in the end".

That is certainly something to reflect on.

Boon Chan



The Django Festival AllStars

Resilience Music

4 stars

The Django Festival AllStars are a group that pay tribute to the late jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt and his style of hot jazz.

The Manouche in the album title acknowledges the gypsy clan to which Reinhardt belonged.

The eponymous title track is composed by guitarist/violinist Dorado Schmitt in a nod to Them There Eyes, which Reinhardt recorded in 1938. It features the rhythmic guitar chords and bright violin melody that was the signature sound of Reinhardt and violinist Stephane Grappelli's Hot Club recordings.

But the AllStars, which also include Schmitt's two guitarist sons Samson and Amati, violinist Pierre Blanchard and accordionist Ludovic Beier, are no mere copyists.

Hence the Hot Club style of jazz serves as a jumping off point for the band to explore other musical genres. For example, Troublant Romeo takes its rhythmic cue from the seductive strut of tango, while Blanchard's violin wail that introduces Around Toots taps on Middle Eastern scales for a touch of exotic melancholia.

Here are a couple of hiccups. Lovely Wife tips over into schmaltzy muzak territory with its aimless doodling and Viens Chez Django is bloodless contemporary "jazz" which even a Charleston-inspired interlude cannot rescue.

But when the band keep close to their musical roots - be they gypsy, tango or jazz - they brim with verve and vigour.

Ong Sor Fern



Piano Duo Carles & Sofia

KNS Classical A/050

4.5 stars

Piano fanciers will be familiar with Goyescas (1911), the suite of seven rather difficult solo piano pieces by Spanish composer Enrique Granados (1867 to 1916) inspired by Francisco Goya's paintings of Spanish nobility and their romances.

Rather less well-known is the one-act opera Goyescas (1915), based on these pieces, orchestrated and with voices added by the composer. It was premiered at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City in January 1916 during the height of World War I. Granados unfortunately drowned on his return voyage to Europe, when his ship was torpedoed by a German submarine.

This is the premiere recording of a transcription of the hour-long opera for piano four hands by Catalan composer-pianist Abraham Espinosa. All the popular music is reprised, including the bittersweet Maiden And The Nightingale and the final ballad Love And Death.

The bouncy dance of the tossed strawman El Pelele, as depicted in Goya's painting The Straw Manikin, is not tacked on at the end, but actually opens the opera after a short introduction.

Some new music is added as interludes, leading into favourites like Los Requiebros (Flatteries) and the Serenade By Candlelight. The Catalan duo of Carles Lama and Sofia Cabruja, who commissioned the transcription, truly revel in its eight movements.

While the original solo is a virtuoso vehicle, this idiomatic four hands version represents a triumph of ensemble work.

Chang Tou Liang

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 26, 2018, with the headline 'Hot Tracks'. Print Edition | Subscribe