Be­yond the

Pe­nang is­land Jazz Fes­ti­val’s 10th an­niver­sary edi­tion re­minded the masses about the ap­peal of an open­minded mu­sic pol­icy.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - MUSIC - By N. RAMA LO­HAN en­ter­tain­ment@thes­tar.com.my Pic­tures by MUHAMAD SHAHRIL ROSLI

IT’S open to de­bate if a mu­sic fes­ti­val cul­ture truly ex­ists here in Malaysia. But lo­cally-pro­duced suc­cess sto­ries, like Rain­for­est World Mu­sic Fes­ti­val, Rock The World and Ur­ban­scapes might just be the proof of the pud­ding. Pe­nang Is­land Jazz Fes­ti­val (PIJF) chalked its 10th in­stal­ment over the past weekend, done against the tide of ap­a­thy to­wards the genre. PIJF barely made it out of the woods in its early years with its poor fi­nan­cial re­coup. To­day, though, or­gan­iser Capricorn Con­nec­tion stands tall in show­ing how lit­tle money with plenty of heart can get some se­ri­ous mileage.

It’s this undy­ing faith through the years that’s kept PIJF’s wheels firmly fas­tened to the track, de­serv­ingly earn­ing it an ap­pre­cia­tive au­di­ence.

The fes­ti­val has been graced by the likes of Jojo Mayer, Ulf Wak­e­nius, Tommy Em­manuel, Martin Tay­lor and Steve Hack­ett (for­merly of Ge­n­e­sis) ... all big names in the fes­ti­val cir­cuit.

For its 10th an­niver­sary edi­tion, the coun­try’s pre­mier jazz fest pulled out all the stops by throw­ing in a liv­ing leg­end, one of the five best guitarists in the world and a home­grown tal­ent who’s taken her chance at grad­u­at­ing from fringe stages to the mainstage at Bayview Ho­tel, among her many new mile­stones.

Amer­i­can Idol run­ner up from Sea­son 10, Casey Abrams ig­nited the fes­tiv­i­ties with a per­for­mance two days be­fore­hand that ex­tended be­yond the bor­ders of the mu­si­cian­ship he dis­played dur­ing the re­al­ity tal­ent show. He had Liyana Fizi for com­pany as his open­ing act, though the jazzy pop dar­ling also got her kicks in a first for PIJF, the

Sun­rise@ Spice Gar­den at Batu Fer­ringhi, with her foil, sax man Eizaz Azhar.

If the mainstage events across Satur­day and Sun­day were the main course, the Cre­ative Malaysia Fringe (spread out across a few venues in the vicin­ity) stages of­fered de­lec­ta­ble ap­pe­tis­ers to the main course. Acts came from all across the coun­try, even as far as Kota Kinabalu, wait­ing for their turn to tune the lis­ten­ing au­di­ence to their sound and style.

Bands like FAZZ and JUNK, both per­mu­ta­tions of jazz/funk hy­brids, gave very good ac­counts of them­selves, con­firm­ing that trad and fu­sion jazz were alive and well in the hands of th­ese young mu­si­cians.

Else­where, Hameer Zawawi’s op­er­atic, fan­tasy folk had more than a few mouths agape as he ploughed through a se­lec­tion of songs from his eight­song de­but al­bum Na­tional Fan­tasy, the ti­tle track and Zom­bie Town choice cuts in a stun­ning dis­play of voice and gui­tar. Mo­main Blues, a four-piece KK out­fit re­plete with Blues Brothers-ap­proved garb, rat­tled and rolled with a groovy swag­ger. Woven into a bunch of solid

orig­i­nals – like

Pandai-pandai and Mari Sini – were Chicago blues prime cuts from Bo Did­dley, Otis Rush and Muddy Waters. It may not have been what the doc­tor or­dered for some, but good mu­sic eas­ily finds a home.

Rais­ing the cur­tain and set­ting the bar at the main stage on Satur­day was Pe­nang-born singer Bizhu, the voice be­hind the charm­ing

The Heart Way. Cut­ting her teeth at the fes­ti­val as part of Rhap­sody in 2006 seems like such a long time ago, but she and her band were more than par for the course at the main stage, en­ter­tain­ing the au­di­ence with a steady stream of sweet melodies and sin­ga­longs, though some­thing was vis­i­bly amiss in the band dy­namic on a night of op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Ber­lin-based duo Michael Schiefel and Carsten Daerr flex­ing its clas­si­cal mu­sic mus­cle proved that PIJF has kept its arms open in wel­com­ing any­thing gen­uinely unique and en­ter­tain­ing. Schiefel and Daerr were right on the money in both re­spects.

While Daerr’s ten­donitis-in­duc­ing runs on the pi­ano were stag­ger­ing, it was Schiefel’s ex­tra­or­di­nary vo­cal­is­ing that was the jewel in the crown, al­most de­fy­ing words in its style of de­liv­ery. And the son­ics were equalled by the vis­ual of him im­i­tat­ing the phys­i­cal process of play­ing the vi­olin, cello, key­board, dou­ble bass ... not un­sim­i­lar to scat­ting. Sim­ply put, pic­ture an air gui­tarist, and imag­ine those in­stru­ments, in­stead.

Lists re­ally count for lit­tle in real-world ap­pli­ca­tion, but it cer­tainly meant for some­thing that in 2003, Okan Er­san was voted in an es­teemed list as one of the top five best guitarists for the year by Bri­tain’s Gui­tarist mag­a­zine – the gui­tarist’s amal­gam of mid- dle East­ern and Western flavours made for a heady mix at the fest. The north­ern Cyprus mu­si­cian was in com­plete sync with his Turk­ish band­mates, jug­gling com­plex ar­range­ments and blur­ring time sig­na­tures at the ease of snap­ping fin­gers. Just as the art rock flag be­gan to flut­ter wildly in the wind, the gath­ered au­di­ence at Bayview Beach Re­sort’s gar­den were quickly re­minded that they were there par­tic­u­larly for vin­tageschooled jazz. When your sur­name reads Cole, ex­pec­ta­tions go through the roof, but at 82, noth­ing fazes Freddy Cole and his quar­tet. Mar­ket­ing for the fes­ti­val had clearly played its part, as youth­ful girls, young enough to be his great grand chil­dren, in some cases, ran up to the stage to catch the liv­ing leg­end on their cam­eras and smart phones.

And the gems from jazz’s golden era flowed, much to the de­light of the un­cles and aun­ties ... and their brood. Of course, it took

Route 66 to place all of the au­di­ence squarely in fa­mil­iar ter­ri­tory. This was jazz as it was first writ­ten, the way it cre­ated a lan­guage all its own and wrig­gled its way into pop­u­lar mu­sic’s con­scious­ness. Freddy might be the less il­lus­tri­ous Cole, but echoes of his older brother (Nat King Cole) as he sang in the lower reg­is­ters must have sent a tingle down the spine of fans of clas­sic jazz.

The sec­ond night started off just as promis­ingly with South Korean out­fit Vi­na­log spread­ing its swings in an ex­er­cise of nearpsy­chotic folk in­ter­twined with acid jazz and elec­tron­ica. It was good stuff, but that damn

taepyeongso (Korean reed in­stru­ment) was played at ear-split­ting vol­ume, which re­ally was a shame be­cause it ren­dered the fol­low­ing act, Nor­way’s Hed­vig Mollestad Trio, noisy

Hed­vig Mollestad Thomassen came with her trio from the frigid cold of Nor­way to raise the tem­per­a­ture with a rau­cous set of artful rock.

Pro­gres­sive edge:

Zim­babwe-born Lon­don-raised eska played the per­son­able per­former, eas­ily con­nect­ing with her au­di­ence.

Fans of mu­sic had plenty to re­joice at Pe­nang is­land Jazz Fes­ti­val 2013 with its di­verse pro­gram­ming.

Liv­ing leg­end Freddy cole took the au­di­ence down mem­ory lane with a vin­tage serv­ing of ro­man­tic jazz.

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