Music lovers from around the world have just had a great time enjoying performances by international jazz artists at the small, and perfectly formed, 9th annual Borneo Jazz Festival. (Artistic Director Yeoh Jun Lin)
Some genres confound our expectations and jazz can do this – we sometimes can’t tell where the tune will go to next and often don’t like that uncertainty. I recently asked ‘what is jazz’ and soon I will blog about what these performers said about that vexed question.
The eight handpicked performers included (in no particular order) were Iriao, an eight-piece ethno-jazz band from Georgia. Their repertoire is based on Georgian authentic folk instrumental and polyphonic music, which has been recognized by UNESCO as being a masterpiece of oral immaterial heritage. They say the band is not aiming to modernize the unique polyphonic Georgian music but to saturate and adorn it with jazz elements. Listen to one of their pieces here on YouTube.
A crowd-pleaser was Vocal Sampling, an all-male a cappella group from Cuba . Their 2011 album ‘Cambio de Tiempo’ was nominated for 3 Latin Grammy Awards. Only using their voices, cupped hands and bodies they create a full range of timbres and textures of the Latin Orchestra – percussion, horns, keyboard, bass – which are vocally reproduced with astonishing accuracy. The crowd, and me, loved their classic boleros, rumba, and salsa, as well as more contemporary compositions.
Brassballettfrom Germany – evidently the first and only show worldwide where the musicians dance at the same time, although it is something many marching bands do the same. In their crisp suits and red ties, the choreographed show was popular. With only one stage at this festival on the beach, the stage manager and his crew deserve a shout out too.
Mario Canonge is a great musician and showman who played creole jazz with West Indies rhythms. He is originally from Martinique and now lives in France and the audience loved this band returning to Miri and the Borneo Jazz Festival. It seems each festival is a mix of one or two groups who have been before along with introducing new groups to the crowd.
YK Band from Indonesia featured jazz with a Borneo flavour and the locals particularly loved this group which has been performing since 2013.
Anthony Strong, pianist and singer has been hailed as ‘England’s new jazz superstar’. In 2013, Anthony Strong beat Gregory Porter, Michael Buble and Harry Connick Jr. to become October’s No. 1 on iTunes and No.2 on the Amazon USA jazz charts. Evidently Rod Steward described him as amazing while BB King called it ‘real great music’. The crowd, and I, loved his retro-contemporary repertoire including‘Too Darn Hot,’ ‘Luck Be a Lady’ and ‘My Ship’ from his ‘Stepping Out’ album. (He tells me a new album is imminent)
Local-born artist, the 30-year old Diana Liu started classical piano lessons at five and, with a music degree from Australia and who starting formal, classical singing during her 3-years at Otago Girls High, New Zealand, plays pop, jazz, bossa nova, gospel, funk and soul in a beautifully clear voice. She sings in Mandarin and English and performed with an international ensemble of jazz musicians – Lewis Pragasam of Malaysia, Christy Smith of USA, Tan Wee Siang of Singapore, Greg Lyons of Britain.
Junk o Func, (with12 people) grabbed the stage and owned it! Lead singers Elvira Arul and Russell Curtis entertained us with punchy, gospel-influenced vocals and playful, interaction with each other and the audience – who loved them. (I predict they will return!)
Both evenings concluded with a jam session all the musicians ( inside the hotel) while in the Pavillion beside the ‘Stage by the Sea’ DJ Roundhead had a popular Club Set: crowned the ‘Malaysia DJ Champion’ three years in a row he has a 20 year history in the local music industry.
Held at the ParkCity Everly Hotel, Miri (Sarawak) is the birthplace of Malaysia’s petroleum industry – oil was discovered in the early 1900s and remains the major industry. With a population of 300,000 people, it’s a resort city with easy links to many of the states adventure and nature attractions and is close to the Sultanate of Brunei and Sabah, Malaysia.
The city is surrounded by four world-class national parks, Gunung Mulu National Park (UNESCO World Heritage Site, home to the world’s largest caves), Niah National Park (Historical and archaeological site), Lambir Hills National Park (diverse species of flora and fauna) and Loagan Bunut National Park (largest natural lake).
Thank you to Sarawak Tourism Board for hosting me to this wonderful event.