Hot Tracks: Chinese singer Xu Jun, jazz trumpeter Bria Skonberg and pianist Julius Katchen

Apart from Guo Ding, Xu Jun is another Chinese singer-songwriter who has found favour at the prestigious Golden Melody Awards.

His debut album, Million Songs Hill, has been nominated for Album of the Year and Best Mandarin Album. The results will be announced on June 24.

He took part in the second season of the reality television contest Sing My Song in 2015, but missed out on the Best Mandarin Male Vocalist category, in which Guo is up against familiar names such as Jay Chou, Yoga Lin and Khalil Fong.

The opening track, Shot By Love's Gun, starts with a hymn-like organ introduction before Xu's raspy voice paints a violent picture: "I was caught off-guard and shot by love's gun/Collapsed in a pool of blood, but I've never thought of resisting."

It is as though, in the face of a maelstrom of emotions, resistance is futile. But the chorus holds out hope: "I've tried hard to cross over these boiling waters and this door of anger."

There is some variety, from the light-hearted Mess Around to the sole English number, Feathers, which Xu co-wrote with Australian singer-songwriter Hayley Aitken and Swedish writer-producer Ollipop. One can almost imagine him busking on the streets of Stockholm, where the album was recorded, with a guitar as he sings: "And as we go, go along, long this road/Passing people by/Like a leaf in the wind, we will rise and we will fall again."

  • ASIAN POP

  • MILLION SONGS HILL

    Xu Jun

    Sony Music Entertainment

    4/5 stars

On the strength of this record, I would say that this is his time to rise.

Boon Chan


Canadian trumpeter/singer Bria Skonberg is a gem. Her slightly husky alto voice purrs and yelps with equal facility and her trumpet tone is fat and buttery.

  • JAZZ

  • WITH A TWIST

    Bria Skonberg

    Okeh/ Masterworks

    4/5 stars

Her playing style is evidently influenced by the Nawlins tradition of swing as well as Louis Armstrong's bright soloing and confident improvisations.

Listen to her strutting solo in her original track, Same Kind Of Crazy, and you can hear Armstrong sing through this 33-year-old.

While her various influences - from Nina Simone and Anita O'Day to Bjork and Leonard Cohen - are clear as day in her delivery, Skonberg is far from a copycat. Her strength, as evidenced in this happy, bubbling album that merits multiple spins, is very definitely her distinctive viewpoint.

The easy bounce of My Baby Just Cares For Me and tropical slink of Sway take the tracks quite a few notches above hotel lounge, courtesy of Gil Goldstein's sophisticated arrangements that put the musicians through their paces with tempo and genre changes.

An especially enchanting track on this winsome album is Cocktails For Two, which begins with Sullivan Fortner's old-school Tin Pan Alley tinkling accompaniment to Skonberg's musing before drummer Matt Wilson kicks things up a notch with a bebop interlude.

Things really take off when the ensemble joins in with a samba-cha cha instrumental that careens from Latin jazz to circus music. Described thus, it sounds like a bad musical stew, but the musicians' technical polish and evident enjoyment of the challenge somehow pull it all together.

Ong Sor Fern


Whenever music connoisseurs refer to the "lost generation of American pianists", they mostly refer to William Kapell and Julius Katchen, artists whose lives were cut short long before their time.

  • HISTORICAL CLASSICS

  • JULIUS KATCHEN

    Complete Decca Recordings

    Decca Records (35 CDs)

    5/5 stars

The Paris-domiciled Katchen (1926-1969), generally better known to local record collectors, succumbed to cancer at age 42. This collection of his complete recordings on the British Decca label dates from 1947 (his first recordings were on 78 rpm shellacs) to 1968.

The discography covers Mozart and Beethoven to 20th-century giants such as Rachmaninov, Bartok, Prokofiev and Britten. He also championed the still-living American Ned Rorem's Second Piano Sonata.

Most of all, Katchen is remembered for recording Brahms' major piano works, including the Sonatas, Variations, short pieces (all 21 Hungarian Dances too) and both Piano Concertos. Still considered by many as peerless, the playing combines vigour with tenderness, illuminating the gruff German's inner soul.

There are two recordings of Gershwin's Rhapsody In Blue, with the 1955 version partnered by Mantovani And His Orchestra.

Pianophiles will hail his electrifying Liszt-playing, authoritative Mussorgsky's Pictures At An Exhibition and two takes on Balakirev's Islamey, both racing through under eight minutes.

An artist who accords the great classics and virtuoso showpieces equal regard deserves his cult status.

Chang Tou Liang

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 14, 2017, with the headline 'Hot Tracks'. Print Edition | Subscribe