Miri International Jazz Festival 2009 : Day one

Event: Miri International Jazz Festival 2009
Venue: The Pavilion, ParkCity Everly Hotel
Date: May 8, 2009 (Friday)

The sun beamed at a 5 o’clock hue that is warm and tender. Outside my balcony, the South China Sea lapped languidly against the shores of Miri, and downstairs at the ParkCity Everly Hotel lawn, tents were set up ready to welcome the many guests for the Miri International Jazz Festival that night.

While smoking a cigarette outside, a saxophonist practised his scores and notes a few rooms down. Despite the tiresome jet sets to the Borneo island and back again for the past couple of weeks, the musician’s precise slurs echoing in the premises assured me that this would be quite a weekend.

This year’s MIJF took off nice and easy with Malaysia’s own Double Take. With the vocal powerhouse of Mia Palencia and the complementing guitar licks of Roger Wang, it was as simple as it can get.

Overheard @ MIJF: “Roger looks like some ah pek out on the street, you’ll never know that when he performs he’s this musical genius!”

Palencia’s strong and deep voice is the kind that reminds you of a good time during Christmas. You know, fireplace, hot cocoa, chestnuts roasting on an open fire kind of works.

Their performance suited the MIJF early Friday crowd well. With only less than 1,000 then, Palencia’s aggressive voice bounced off the audience’s heads and rose up to the high-ceilinged venue with a bunch of covers: Somewhere Over the Rainbow, jazzed up versions of Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean and Man in the Mirror for the encore, and Sting’s If You Love Someone, Set Them Free.

However, despite all that Double Take has, I was not really grabbed just yet. They have the kind of style a lot of Malaysian bands would like to go for, and I was hoping for something different. Nonetheless, they did put on a great show and it felt like a great start to a perfect festival. But in the sense of being blown away, I was far from it.

Overheard @ MIJF: “Here’s my key card. Oh, and bring your turban. *growls*”

Now, when I first heard of the Bombay Baja Brass Band, I was pretty much intrigued. Out of the nine members, seven of them were Brits, and they were going around in Punjabi suits and turbans. Heh. They were quite a fresh breath of air.

But, after hearing them twice before their performance – once at the MIJF welcoming dinner and another during their soundcheck of sorts out in the Everly premises – they kind of became boring for me after a while. I mean, how differently can you get with the kind of rhythm the dhol can offer? 30 minutes into their set, it felt like they have gone on for two hours.

Yet the crowd seems to like them. The band got the crowd to do the Bhangra dance of “screwing the lightbulb” while “patting the dog” at the same time. They had good showmanship, I would give them that. Like I said, it was a fresh breath of air, but like all oxygen in a new part of the world, it smells the same after a while.

And, it was around this time we found out that Everly serves pretty awesome mojitos at RM12. Heh.

When you listen to John Kaizan Neptune talk, you know he is passionate about his music. So passionate that he seems a little, well, off. He tends to go on and on about his view, and he always seems to be gazing a little off to the distance from the present world he is in.

When he started talking about the technicalities of his music instruments, half of the crowd did not really care and was chattering away. But when he started playing on his shakuhachi, a Japanese bamboo flute known to be used for zen meditations, the people were snapped into his trance, just like that. This is the time when we were able to share his often distant looks and off-ness.

He performed with Steps in Time, a multi-cultural ensemble of Indian drumming and strings, jazzy guitar glides, funky wild bass and a rocky steady percussion. It was a performance with a base of Japanese traditional music fused with Indian beats. The violin came out like the Chinese er hu, and together with the Japanese flute, it was like a perfect duet of two lovers. At the background, the timid manjira and bopping ghatam fills the air, welcoming you to feel the romance.

It was sensual. It was comforting. Close your eyes, and you would be transported to a world of falling sakuras in Kyoto and the shibuya centre of Tokyo. Perhaps there is where John Kaizan’s mind is.

Overheard @ MIJF: “They keep on turning their backs on me, I get to check out their asses.”

Since leaving Australia after studying there for two years, I guess I will always have a soft spot for anything that hails from the land down under (meh, that was cliche, guilty as charged). So, I felt a bad itch in my heart when Alamode took the stage and did well in bringing along the entire city of Sydney with them.

To me, every city has a music of its own, and most of them sound like jazz. And if Sydney is all about the jazz, she will be what Alamode sounds like. Beau Golden’s chromatical keys and Daniel Walsh’s choppy guitar riffs imagined a cop chase down the busy freeway for Cops Come Twice. Paul Spaccavento’s saxophone and Paul Muchison’s trumpet were like brothers in arms, creating such power in their songs like Dee Cees (I think), notes as punctuated as their inflated cheeks. Scott Page’s bass and Michael Avenaim’s percussion, always an addictive pleasure to jive along to the band, paving blues streets and top hats.

They even got Dites34’s typist-I mean, accordionist (heh) Guy Giuliano to collaborate with them for a song.

Frankly, I liked it that they did not come with any vocalists. Spaccavento did quite a splendid job stealing the show by creating solos where a voice should sing, and it would kind of flatten Alamode’s unique music style if his saxophone were to be replaced.

It was quite a good start for this year’s MIJF. Although a little slow and catching the mood, but a sultry beginning with Double Take and with Alamode for a climatic end, it is a sign that by the second night, things are just going to continue getting better.

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3 Responses to “Miri International Jazz Festival 2009 : Day one”

  1. chiefeater Says:

    mojitos at RM12??????????????? beeep!!!!

  2. Naz Says:

    This was hilarious. Not blunt at all. In some places you might have been a bit too nice, in fact. Loved this bit: “When you listen to John Kaizan Neptune talk, you know he is passionate about his music. So passionate that he seems a little, well, off.” Great post!

  3. Celeste Says:

    vincent: why yes, should’ve celebrated your birthday there. heh.

    naz: hey nazzy-naz. thanks for reading. haha, john kaizan is an interesting fellow. 🙂

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