Hot Tracks




Forbidden Paradise Music

3.5 stars

It has been two decades since the first wave of Mandarin R&B hits with the likes of David Tao's 1997 eponymous album and Wang Leehom's Revolution (1998) leading the charge.

In the 2000s, artists such as Khalil Fong continued to explore the genre by digging deeper and adding it to a variegated musical brew.

Now, Taiwanese-American OZI brings an urban hip-hop edge to R&B on his debut album.

He flows on tracks like Diamond - switching smoothly between Mandarin and English - bragging one moment, sweetly filial the next: from "Imma fix new rules/Surpass my own rap/Skilled like a soul assassin/All the R&B I write drives you crazy" to "Cuz I promised mother that I'll make it far/Put some extra dollars in the cookie jar".

On second single B.O. - not about body odour - he collaborates with Taiwanese singer 9m88 for a heady meld of R&B and jazz.

The title is short for Black Out, supposedly OZI's code for partying with friends in college. (He reportedly dropped out of the Berklee College of Music.)

There is a more frankly sexual vibe here that is unusual for Mandopop, venturing between the sheets on tracks such as Paradise Island and Bad Intentions.

OZI is ambitious, no doubt. On the closing track, Title, he lays it out: "Man look, I know I'm new to the game/Got nothing but mouth full of visions about making a name out of music/Ain't thinking bout money and fame".

Interestingly enough, it is juxtaposed against the opening track, Ozymandias, a spoken-word number reciting P. B. Shelley's poem of the same name about hubris and crumbling past glories.

There has been a fair bit of hype over this release by the 21-year-old son of veteran Taiwanese singer Irene Yeh. While some of it feels fresh, parts of it would not be unfamiliar to listeners of Mandarin hip-hop. And it would be good for him to take on a wider range of topics.

Still, with youth and talent on his side, OZI, whose real name is Stefan Chen, is certainly one to watch.

Boon Chan



Houston Person/Ron Carter

HighNote Records

5 stars

You know you are in the hands of masters from the get-go. From the first sweetly voluptuous notes from saxophonist Houston Person, which opens the first track, Love Is Here To Stay, to be joined by Ron Carter's strutting bass, the quietly romantic, gently conversational mood is set.

This is the duo's sixth album together and their easy chemistry powers this album of eight standards and two originals.

Stripped to basics, the two musicians shine in their understated grace.

Person's saxophone does most of the melodic weightlifting, carrying the straight tunes with occasional excursions based closely on the chords.

Carter's puckish bass is the sneaky surprise. The bass is a sturdy timekeeper in jazz, more often than not providing the heartbeat rhythm that anchors more flamboyant flights of fancy from the other instruments.

But from his opening solo in Love Is Here To Stay, where he works in a quote from Bizet's Carmen, Carter's melodic bass trips and skips, offering mischievous counterpoints to Person's stately saxophone.

Listen to his plucked introduction to You Are My Sunshine, which somehow makes the strings sound like bells, or how he works in a quote from A Night In Tunisia into My One And Only Love, just to make sure you are paying attention.

This is a nuanced offering that invites you to lean in, pay attention, like any romantic date, and it rewards you with elegant wit.

Ong Sor Fern

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 06, 2018, with the headline 'Hot Tracks'. Print Edition | Subscribe