Blue Notes, by Robin Lynam
Two of the jazz highlights of the 2014 Hong Kong Arts Festival take place this week with the performances by Madeleine Peyroux on Wednesday and John McLaughlin and the 4th Dimension on Friday.
Peyroux, who is making her Arts Festival debut, is a singer often likened to Billie Holiday, who is clearly an influence, but one alongside an eclectic range of other artists, including Ray Charles, to whom she pays tribute on her latest album, The Blue Room, released last year.
The album includes Peyroux's interpretations of some of the country songs Charles tackled on his groundbreaking 1962 album Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music, including Bye Bye Love, I Can't Stop Loving You and You Don't Know Me.
However, rather than remake the album, she and producer Larry Klein included some songs written after its release which Charles might have arranged in a similar way, including Leonard Cohen's Bird on the Wire, Randy Newman's Guilty, and Warren Zevon's Desperadoes Under the Eaves.
Some of that repertoire, presumably, will be included in her performance here, but since 1996 she has recorded seven albums worth of songs, including a number she has composed or co-composed.
Peyroux is passing through Hong Kong on her way from Australia back to the US, but McLaughlin has fitted his concert here with his 4th Dimension Band - a multicultural fusion outfit comprising Gary Husband on keyboards and drums, Etienne M'Bappe on bass, and Ranjit Barot on drums - into a full-scale Asian tour.
His itinerary takes in concerts in Singapore, Bangkok, Manila, Seoul, Chennai, Mumbai, Beijing and Shanghai, as well as the more predictable dates at the Blue Note clubs in Nagoya and Tokyo where jazz musicians of McLaughlin's stature can always be sure of a full house. The tour will conclude on April 9 with a performance at the Ramallah Cultural Palace in the West Bank.
McLaughlin's music has strong Asian influences and he describes the region as having been "a big part of my life". He has played the Arts Festival before, most recently in 2009 with Chick Corea and the Five Peace Band, but also in 1996 with The Free Spirits and in 1997 with Al di Meola and Paco de Lucia.
Both performances take place at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre Concert Hall and start at 8pm.
McLaughlin's Asian tour commitments prevented him from attending de Lucia's funeral in Spain last Saturday, the great flamenco guitarist having died suddenly while on holiday in Mexico, on February 26, at the age of 66.
He clearly feels the loss deeply. "In the place where he lived in my heart, there is now an emptiness that will stay with me till I join him," Associated Press quoted McLaughlin as saying.
Much of the jazz world will feel the same. There are many affinities between jazz and flamenco - Flamenco Sketches is the concluding track of Miles Davis' Kind of Blue - and jazz players see de Lucia as one of their own.
Corea issued a statement saying: "Paco inspired me in the construction of my own musical world as much as Miles Davis and John Coltrane, or Bartok and Mozart."
Flamenco, jazz and the world of music as a whole have sustained a sad loss. RIP.
Three albums on which de Lucia successfully integrated elements of flamenco and jazz.
Castro Marin (1981, Phonogram): flamenco enters new territory as de Lucia teams up with electric bassist Carles Benavent and fellow guitarists Larry Coryell and McLaughlin, who adds a 12-string guitar to the unconventional line-up.
Friday Night in San Francisco (1981, Phillips): the Castro Marin experiment is taken a step further as Di Meola, with whom de Lucia had collaborated on the 1977 Elegant Gypsy album, replaces Coryell.
Zyryab (1990, Verve): Corea on piano joins the De Lucia Sextet for an album on which jazz and flamenco meet on equal terms.