Clockenflap Music Festival

Shaolin Fez return to Clockenflap: the classical musicians who made a mini-orchestra play symphonic disco and acid jazz

14-member Hong Kong ensemble promise a ‘diva showcase’ in their pursuit of classy and brassy takes on disco, jazz and funk

PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 November, 2015, 1:08pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 September, 2016, 3:04pm

For some it’s all about that bass - for others, it’s all about putting that bass behind brass and backing a diva in full voice.

Having made their debut there three years ago, Shaolin Fez will return to Clockenflap on Sunday, November 29 for a bigger and longer gig, this time with 14 musicians in tow playing a 45-minute set.

Band leader Sam Ferrer says the annual music and arts festival has a policy of not repeating the same band year after year, so “we are actually quite lucky to be invited back, let alone on the main stage”.

He says this year the stage will be less of a “revolving door” where bands come on and get off quickly one after another.

“The stage turnover between bands is half an hour. Basically, they are giving you more time to feature and fewer bands get in,” explains Ferrer, who is also a double bassist with the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra.

“That’s really good because it’s less chaotic and the difference between a 45-minute and a half-hour set is quite huge. Half-hour is kind of a whirlwind, 45 minutes is a true and actual set.”

Shaolin Fez is a unique outfit on the live music scene that is made up mostly of classical musicians including strings, brass and French horn players. They became active in 2012, the year they released their debut album Calm Your Storm, and have been performing in many rock and jazz festivals, most recently at the opening ceremony of the Wine & Dine Festival.

Ferrer once described the band as “a large ensemble using retro-sounds to give our take on acid jazz, symphonic disco, and Sino-funk” and that still holds true today.

For their upcoming performance at Clockenflap, they will be playing mostly original songs from their album as well as a few “strong songs”.

“If there is any [music] festival in Hong Kong where you should be doing original materials, it is Clockenflap for sure,” says Ferrer, who adds they will also be doing a couple of covers by Jamiroquai and Amy Winehouse.

The Californian musician says Shaolin Fez is a “mini-orchestra” similar to the Pink Martini in the US “but their style is very lounge and we don’t have much [of the lounge sound] so you can say [we are] acid jazz, with symphonic rock but performed as a mini orchestra.”

Fronting the band is singer Jennifer Palor, another familiar face on the local live music scene.

Ferrer, who writes and arranges the music for the ensemble, says one of his ideas for the setup is that it’d be a diva showcase: “If you have a diva voice ... I’m sorry you still are not really a diva if you are being backed up by a jazz quartet or jazz quintet.

“Diva, by definition, is grand, it’s big and if you only got four or five players behind you, just a rhythm section, you are still not there. So we are a mini-orchestra to showcase the diva.”

Next year, Shaolin will start doing unplugged concerts that Ferrer says will be, conceptually, extremely different from what everyone else is doing in town.

“It will be very indie, very conceptual. We have a certain sound for sure, doesn’t matter we are [using] drums playing rock or we are playing ballads with no drums ... but that sound is there,” he says.

“But the style range, I’d say it’s quite large and it goes to different directions.”

Shaolin Fez play the Harbourflap Stage from 1.45pm on Sunday, November 29