Singapore International Jazz Festival

The night Singapore became Singland

American multi- instrumentalist Esperanza Spalding (above) displayed dazzling virtuosity, while Senegalese singer Youssou N'Dour gave a fretless feel to his prayerful performance with shades of reggae.
American multi- instrumentalist Esperanza Spalding (above) displayed dazzling virtuosity, while Senegalese singer Youssou N'Dour gave a fretless feel to his prayerful performance with shades of reggae.PHOTO: SING JAZZ
American multi- instrumentalist Esperanza Spalding displayed dazzling virtuosity, while Senegalese singer Youssou N'Dour (above) gave a fretless feel to his prayerful performance with shades of reggae.
American multi- instrumentalist Esperanza Spalding displayed dazzling virtuosity, while Senegalese singer Youssou N'Dour (above) gave a fretless feel to his prayerful performance with shades of reggae.PHOTO: SING JAZZ

Grammy winners Esperanza Spalding and Youssou N'Dour did much to lift a soggy April Fool's evening

REVIEW / CONCERT

SINGAPORE INTERNATIONAL JAZZ FESTIVAL

Marina Bay Sands Sands Expo and Convention Centre/Last Saturday

Rain threatened to wash out the second evening of the Singapore International Jazz Festival, but the April Fool's Day drizzle had not reckoned with the megawatt talents of Esperanza Spalding and Youssou N'Dour.

Both Spalding and N'Dour were returning acts, having debuted in Singapore at the Esplanade in 2013 and 2005, respectively.

Spalding, a Grammy darling who came on after guitarist Ray Parker Jr, took a while to warm up as usual.

The much-decorated American wunderkind, who beat Justin Bieber to the Best New Artist Grammy in 2011, unleashed some uncharacteristically imprecise scatting at first, before belting out a new song by Wayne Shorter.

As she settled into its honky-tonk grooves, she marvelled that her audience was cheering it, noting teasingly that most listeners groan whenever artists try to sneak new songs into their performance.

Her listeners were forgiving likely because they were still pumped from Parker's high-octane rendition of his theme from the movie Ghostbusters, within which he segued to Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars' Uptown Funk.

This bumper version of the ever-pleasing soundtrack really got the joint jumping.

"Bluey's going to funk you up," sang Parker, who was backed by fellow festival act Incognito.

Towards the end, he demanded of the crowd: "When Ray comes through your bedroom door/Unless you want some more/Who you gonna call?"

"Ghostbusters!" they yelled back, as the image of a paunchy grandfather grooving away, with bowl-like headphones clamped over his ears, flashed on the screen behind him.

Spalding restored jazz to this jazz fest with her stream-of-consciousness cooing of her mesmeric hits, including Black Gold and Unconditional Love. The multi-instrumentalist, who this evening focused on the bass guitar and the double bass, seemed intent on jamming more and singing less.

This was a pity because, despite her dazzling virtuosity, her haunting voice was still the best thing about her, vaulting as it did from parched pain to the bliss of release.

Every so often, she hunched over her instrument, coaxing scorching funk out of it as she tossed her hedge of hair back, forth and sideways. She infused every note with the anguish and triumph of being alive.

Her bandmates, guitarist Matthew Stevens and Justin Tyson on drums, backed her up expertly, letting her music breathe even as they tempered her meandering ways.

For her finale, she imitated a saxophone, sending her pipes soaring and plunging in joyful jags just after cajoling the crowd with "You're in Singapore, so now let's go to Singland."

Where Spalding was all esoteric and ethereal, Senegalese sensation N'Dour was vital and visceral.

He burst onto the stage with his band Le Super Etoile de Dakar and two male dancers.

The first was in a grass skirt, wielding what looked like fly whisks which he threw aside occasionally to somersault across the stage.

The second seemed rubber- legged, jiggling and wiggling his body to and fro in a red cap and loose garb that mirrored N'Dour's regal cream-and-baby-blue robe.

N'Dour's set had shades of reggae and, towards its close, Afro-Cuban vibes, lending a fretless feel to his prayerful performance.

He belted out his simple, happy hymns in his mother tongue, French and English, while coaxing the crowd to chip in with o-o-oohs, heh-hehs and, at one point, "Whoaaaa-pilima!".

How they cheered and bopped to the superb licks from bassist Alioune Wade and guitarist Moustapha Mbaye, while their bandmates on the congas, bongos and under-the-arm drums showcased some mighty fine walloping of skins.

What brought the house down, however, was Seven Seconds, his runaway hit single with Neneh Cherry, which was Europe's Song of the Year in 1995.

To chants of "All they want is the money, money/All they need is the money, money/All they want is the money, money/Everything is money, money", they sure lifted a soggy Saturday.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 03, 2017, with the headline 'The night Singapore became Singland'. Print Edition | Subscribe