Blue Notes: Asian All-Stars Power Quartet and Jazzy Christmas

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 25 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 25 November, 2012, 5:47pm

Last Sunday night Londoners got a rare opportunity to hear a band comprising four of Asia's finest jazzmen. Our own Eugene Pao on guitar, Singapore's Jeremy Monteiro on Nord C1 organ, Thailand's Hong Chanutr Techatana-nam on drums, and saxophonist Tots Tolentino from the Philippines are collectively the Asian Jazz All-Stars Power Quartet. They were appearing at one of London's top jazz venues, the Dean Street Pizza Express, as part of the annual London Jazz Festival.

It was a prestigious gig for which the quartet - reunited after a hiatus of several months - played three warm-up shows in Singapore. The encore will be played here on Friday at 8pm at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts' Amphitheatre.

"We've had the opportunity to add a few new things to our repertoire and to knock the cobwebs off the older ones," Monteiro says over the phone from London.

Additions to a typical set list include original tunes from the members, among them Pao's Star Trek referential Make It So, which takes its title from a catchphrase used in the hit series. "There's also an older tune of Eugene's called Offside [first released on 1999's This Window on Sony] which we give a nice viewing of with this bunch of guys, and a couple of my tunes, Life Goes On, and Oasis which I wrote with Ernie Watts," says Monteiro.

The All-Stars have a classic organ trio plus saxophone line-up, with Monteiro taking care of the bass with his left hand, but their style is modern, as close to the music of Larry Goldings and Joey de Francesco as that of Jimmy Smith and Richard "Groove" Holmes.

For anybody able to make it down to Singapore for December 15, Monteiro's next big show, with a very different cast of musicians, should also be well worth catching.

After two years off, he is reviving a 10-year-old tradition of a pre-Christmas concert entitled Jazzy Christmas, at Singapore's Esplanade Concert Hall. "I did it seven years in a row and decided to take a break in 2010, which turned into two years because they had to do some improvements to the concert hall," he said.

"Every year I do something different, and it had kind of grown to humungous proportions, with Carmen Bradford of the Basie Band coming to sing with the big band, which I convene once or twice a year for concerts. Rather than continue on the same trajectory with a full-on jazz orchestra, I thought I'd reset it to the way it started out and do a duets concert.

"The first year I did the whole show with [Malaysian pianist] Michael Veerapen - just two pianos. I couldn't go back exactly to that, but I wanted a duet sound, so I decided to do six duets with six different styles of musician."

The show lasts for about two hours with an intermission and opens with Monteiro and Veerapen reprising their duelling pianos roles. Monteiro will then play with violinist Christian Howes, ranked the No1 violinist in the Downbeat Critics Poll of rising stars in 201l. To close this segment Monteiro will play with singer-guitarist Shun Ng.

The second half of the show features saxophonist and longtime Al Jarreau associate Michael Paulo, followed by Mohamed Noor, who Monteiro describes as "a phenomenal percussionist on Indian percussion and Latin percussion as well".

Bradford sang with the Count Basie band during the Count's lifetime and after his death, but is equally comfortable with small groups or a single accompanist. She will close the show. "It's wonderful to have … Bradford. When Ella Fitzgerald died, on her bedside table among the CDs she had been listening to … was a Carmen Bradford CD. She's well respected," Monteiro said.

"I have the shape of the concert worked out now and a nice ebb and flow. It's one of those concerts that could go by almost too fast."

The Return of Jazzy Christmas: Duets with Jeremy Monteiro and Friends, takes place at the Concert Hall, Esplanade Theatres on the Bay, Singapore.

Take Three

Three CDs by artists involved in The Return of Jazzy Christmas.

  • Live at the Living Room Jazz Festival in Bangkok (Jazznote Records, 2011): the Asian Jazz All-Stars Power Quartet captured on fine form in a live recording, which is their only CD to date. Sparks fly.
  • Out of the Blue (Resonance Records, 2010): Christian Howes, in partnership with guitarist Robben Ford, performs a blues-based set which includes original compositions and tunes by composers ranging from Chick Corea to Fats Domino.
  • Home With You (Azica, 2004): a preview of how Bradford sounds in a duet format, this time with her regular pianist, Shelly Berg.