Jazz saxophonist Eric Marienthal back in Hong Kong for paid and free gigs including an 11-sax set
A regular player in Hong Kong’s Jazz Club in the 1990s, and a frequent visitor with Chick Corea, Marienthal is happy to reunite with old friends and meet some new players as he headlines three concerts in the city
Back in the early 1990s saxophonist Eric Marienthal was a regular visitor to these shores, playing residencies at the old Jazz Club in Lan Kwai Fong.
“I have such fond memories of coming to Hong Kong, and the Jazz Club was a huge thing for me,” the 59-year-old musician recalls over the phone from his home in Los Angeles. “We would usually do five or six nights in a row once a year, but it could be as many as nine. The Jazz Club just had a real feel to it. It was a great vibe.”
At that time Marienthal already had a solo career as a recording artist that began with his 1988 Voices Of The Heart album, produced by Chick Corea.
He has been back to Hong Kong since, as a member of Corea’s Elektric Band, most recently in March of this year, but not as solo headliner.
He is making up for lost time in a big way with his next visit. The main event on Monday , which is part of the Jazz World Live Series of concerts, is a two-set performance at the Shouson Theatre.
One set will be with Hong Kong Sax Assault, for which he will be joined by no fewer than 10 other saxophones plus a rhythm section. The other will be with the Hong Kong Jazz Club Reunion Band, made up mostly of the musicians he played with at that venue more than 20 years ago.
Fellow saxophonist and Sax Assault member Jon Rebbeck, who organised his visit, however, has also booked him for two additional shorter free shows.
The first is this Friday at HMV Kafe, with the Lloyd Yamid Group, and the second at 7pm on Sunday at Freespace in the West Kowloon Cultural District, with the Teriver Cheung Quintet.
Marienthal says he is looking forward to working with musicians he hasn’t met before, and to meeting up with old friends.
Jazz Club founder and music director Ric Halstead is coming to town from his home in Australia to join the massed saxophones of Sax Assault, so that night the only absent member of the club’s old house band will be pianist Dave Packer who left Hong Kong in 2003. Ted Lo is sitting in for him.
“We’re planning on doing some original music of mine, and some of Eugene Pao’s music for that concert, and I know the saxophone group has some things in mind for me, so that’s exciting. One of the cool things about playing jazz music is that there are so many different things that you can do,” he says.
A highly creative improviser and composer, Marienthal is at home in a wide variety of musical contexts, from electric fusion and acoustic small group jazz to big bands. He has performed with some of the biggest names in rock and pop, including Elton John, Billy Joel and Stevie Wonder.
His most recent album, Bridges, was made in collaboration with long-standing friend and musical associate guitarist Chuck Loeb, who sadly died in July this year, aged just 61.
“It’s almost surreal when you lose somebody that close. It leaves an incredible void,” he says.
“I’m in the middle of putting together a tribute concert for him next April at the Berks Jazz Festival in Reading Pennsylvania, near Philadelphia. Fourplay [of which Loeb was a member] will be there to play, and we’re thinking Pat Metheny might be there. It’s turning into a very large event. It’s cathartic for me, and a real labour of love.”
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He also has plenty of other projects to keep him busy. As well as gigging as a band leader and maintaining a busy schedule of clinics and masterclasses as a music educator in person and online, he has been playing lead alto with the 18 piece orchestra Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band – a group which has some affinities with Sax Assault – and busy touring with the Elektric Band, still led by the 76-year-old Chick Corea.
“We’ve been on tour quite a lot. We’ve been together for over 30 years. We were seeing each other’s kids as they were born back then, and now we’re seeing them getting married. It has been quite a journey,” says Marienthal.
“Everybody is playing better than ever, including Chick, which is pretty remarkable. He continues to be as inspiring as he always has been. I couldn’t ask for a better situation, that’s for sure. It’s like a family.”
Two projects about which he is particularly excited spring from his Elektric Band and Big Phat Band memberships.
“Gordon Goodwin wrote a concerto called Fantasia for Soprano Saxophone and Orchestra. We’re going next July to Prague to record it with the Czech Republic National Symphony, so that might be my next record. Chick is writing a saxophone concerto for me as well, so I’m really excited about that. There are a lot of irons in the fire,” he says.
The Hong Kong visit will provide a welcome opportunity to play some more intimate venues than those in which The Elektric Band usually performs.
“One of the great things about playing small venues is that it allows you to do things you might not do in a more formal concert hall,” he says. “You can be experimental and improvisational, and that’s what jazz is all about.”
Jazz World Live Series, Nov 13, 8pm, Shouson Theatre, Hong Kong Arts Centre. Tickets: HK$180, HK$280 and HK$380. Inquiries 3761 6661
Nov 10, 9pm, HMV Kafe, 22-36 Paterson St, Causeway Bay. (With the Lloyd Yamid Group.)
Nov 12, 7pm, Freespace, West Kowloon Cultural District. (With the Teriver Cheung Quintet.)
Performances on Nov 10 and 12 are free and unticketed.