Hot Tracks: Singer Jia Jia's soulful voice; violinist Tseng Yu-chien's virtuosic debut; and Blair Crimmins' swingy satire

Taiwanese singer Jia Jia's soulful voice is a thing of beauty.

She could have stuck to singing love ballads and everyone would be perfectly happy. Instead, she throws a curveball early on in this album with See Through, a number by singer-songwriter William Wei which juxtaposes a destructive relationship with a jaunty piano accompaniment. "If you want to hurt me, I won't hide/A person who has given up can't be hurt," she sings.

Not to worry though, ballads are not completely missing from the album.

On the title track written by singer-songwriter Hush, Jia Jia conveys the tender pain of missing an old lover and the closeness they once shared: "More people have forgotten about you and worry about me instead/Forgetting that I am you."



    Jia Jia

    B'in Music International

    3.5/5 stars

She also touches on familial love with an ode to her late mother on the album closer, She Was Beautiful.

Boon Chan

In 2015, Taiwanese violinist Tseng Yu-chien was awarded the first prize at the inaugural Singapore International Violin Competition. Within the same year, he won second prize at the International Tchaikovsky Violin Competition in Moscow, undoubtedly an even more coveted accolade.



    Yu-chien Tseng, Violin with Rohan de Silva, Piano

    Deutsche Grammophon 886 046-9

    5/5 stars

This debut recital disc, issued by Universal Music Taiwan, shows the confidence of youth in abundance. Not all of the programme is virtuoso fodder as he displays a totally musical and more lyrical side in Mozart's Violin Sonata In B Flat Major (K.454), in Chopin's Nocturne (Op.27 No.2) in August Wilhelm's arrangement and in Tchaikovsky's Melodie from Souvenir D'un Lieu Cher.

Even in flexing his Paganinian prowess, there is much nuance in Tartini's Devil's Trill Sonata, working from its calm and sanguine opening to an increasingly frenzied conclusion.

In the unaccompanied Last Rose Of Summer Variations by Heinrich Ernst, the intricacy, detail and perfect intonation of his playing becomes more apparent, reaching full fruition in Wieniawski's fearsome Variations On An Original Theme. The 1732 Guarneri del Gesu violin he plays on, on loan from a Taiwanese foundation, and veteran piano accompanist Rohan de Silva prove worthy partners for him. Heartily recommended.

Chang Tou Liang

From the twangy jazz banjo that opens the title track, you know you have a swingy winner from Atlanta-based musician Blair Crimmins. This multi-hyphenate talent - who plays banjo and guitar, composes, arranges and sings - leads a tight ensemble that plays a foot-tapping blend of ragtime, Dixieland and swing that will appeal to fans of the retro-swing revival of the 1990s.

  • JAZZ


    Blair Crimmins and The Hookers

    New Rag Records

    4/5 stars

Crimmins also offers millennial-smart lyrics ideal for those who enjoy the recent streak of bands that put contemporary spins on genre favourites. You Gotta Sell Something offers snarky lyrics that satirises the formula favoured by pop music: "Step one, find a catchy phrase, one that sticks in your head for days/Step two, keep it short and sweet, 'cause when you're done you're gonna hit repeat/Step three, swing with every verse and shake every last dime right out of their purse/Step four, grab your pen and sign right there on the dotted line."

The sunny sweet swing of Beautiful Thang is accentuated by a thumping piano rag riff and bright brass support from trumpeter Darren English and saxophonist Taylor Kennedy.

The inevitable Southern gospel blues makes its appearance in Passed Around, with a surprisingly lyrical metaphor about life as a dollar bill that goes through multiple hands: "It just looks a little thinner from all the hands it's been passed through/Like the lines upon your face it's not a fine thing to behold it/Every time you laugh, you feel, you cry; you feel a little folded."

Pianist Dustin Cottrell stands out on this track for the way he eases from heartfelt gospel melodies to early rock 'n' roll chords with ragtime rhythms.

Fun, exuberant music-making that draws on jazz roots but is delivered with contemporary verve.

Ong Sor Fern

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 19, 2017, with the headline 'Hot Tracks'. Print Edition | Subscribe