Tuesday, 4 March 2014

ODYSSEYS / Tze n Looking Glass Orchestra / Review

Tze n Looking Glass Orchestra
Esplanade Recital Studio
Sunday (2 March 2014)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 4 March 2014 with the title "Odysseys concert soars".

In this concert from Esplanade’s Spectrum series for contemporary music, there was an unexpected air of its Mosaic series for jazz, fusion and indie music about it. That was because Tze n Looking Glass Orchestra, founded by local jazz pianist and largely self-taught composer Tze Toh (below), is more a fusion band than an avant-garde instrumental ensemble.

Its present guise is in effect a 21st century globalised manifestation of the concerto grosso ensemble from the baroque era, complete with a central nucleus of soloists, back-up musicians of strings, woodwinds and brass, with Tze helming the basso continuo including bass and electric guitar.

The concertino group is decidedly cross-cultural Asian, including Chinese erhu player Dai Da (right), Indian violinist / raga specialist Lazar T.Sebastine and jazz saxophonist Teo Boon Chye. Although improvisation plays a big part for the soloists, the music composed by Tze crosses-over comfortably between genres, with pop song idioms and film music being a considerable influence as well.

The 70-minute concert was easy-listening from start to end, opening with A Kite in the Sky, a slow and meditative number with erhu and saxophone garnering the spotlight. Next, The Odyssey launched into a pulsating allegro representing flight, with fast repetitive patterns that at points was reminiscent of Michael Nyman and Michael Torke, classical establishment minimalists. While Teo’s solos dominated, Sebastine’s violin could have had a more extended run of his own.

The major centrepiece was Gods & Ragas, a triptych of musical avatars representing the triumvirate of Hindu deities. Brahma (Creator) was the most traditional movement, serenely cast in G major featuring Sebastine’s improvisations and wordless vocalises from soprano Izumi Sado, quietly backed by strings and winds playing harmonics and glissandi.

Vishnu (Protector) was the most jazzy, with a persistent ostinato beat provided by Wendy Phua’s electric bass over which erhu and sax soared to a heady crescendo. In the final Shiva (Destroyer), the piano rumbled from an abyss, from which the concert’s only atonal bits gave way to a sort of requiem where Sebastine’s prestidigitation would make Tartini’s Devil’s Trill seem tame by comparison.         

The concert closed on an ecstatic high with In Time Love Comes, where Sado’s mellifluous lines floated with a celestial quality above the instrumental throng. Tze truly knows where to hit the right buttons when it comes to writing romantically inclined music, with this number being ample proof. Tze n Looking Glass Orchestra flies again on 26 July in the same venue. Be sure not to miss the trip.

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