Tuesday, 22 July 2014

SINGAPORE! A MUSICAL CELEBRATION III / Singapore Wind Symphony with Jeremy Monteiro and Friends / Review

Singapore Wind Symphony with
Jeremy Monteiro & Friends
Esplanade Concert Hall
Sunday (20 July 2014)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 22 July 2014 with the title "High times with a giant of jazz".

After Jeremy Monteiro had performed in May with the Singapore Chinese Orchestra on tour in three concerts, conductor Yeh Tsung introduced him to the Chinese audience as a Singaporean virtuoso. “Not Chinese, not Indian, not European but a full-blooded Singaporean,” were the choice words used. Truly there cannot be a greater tribute to one’s nationality to have been described in such terms.

This concert by the Singapore Wind Symphony is part of an on-going series conceived by conductor Adrian Tan celebrating Singaporean music. On show was Cultural Medallion recipient Monteiro, who is as prolific a composer as he is pianist. What constitutes a national style of jazz is still being defined, but it was Monteiro’s eclectic and international style, drawing from disparate inspirations, which put Singaporean jazz into the global spotlight.

It began with Overture In C - The Story of Singapore, a non-jazz number which featured Malay-styled drumming and the pomp of British pageantry for a short round-up of local history. Then the giant of jazz strode out with his rhythm section including drummer Tama Goh, bassist Brian Benson and guitarist Rick Smith.

Monteiro led from the piano with soloists Julian Chan on saxophone and flautist Rit Xu shining in Helvetica, a fast number with some unstated Swiss connection, and the swinging Blues For The Saxophone Club, reliving high times at the old jazz club on Cuppage Terrace. Thrillingly he brought out the stock-in-trade scintillating runs on his right hand, which still amaze given his sizeable girth and apparent laid-back demeanour.

In Brothers, Kenneth Lun’s flugelhorn sang a silvery blues, as the jazzmen paid tribute to the big band fraternity within the wind orchestra. Olympia was a heady marching tune Monteiro wrote for some imaginary Olympic Games topped with a brash and brassy bluster. The frenetic Orchard Road, co-written with Ernie Watts in a traffic jam, would not have sounded out of place in a Rio mardi gras.

The young arrangers of the concert reads like
a Who's Who of Singaporean music.

Another Time, Another Place was a slow sentimental piece with harp thrown in which Monteiro figured could have made great movie music had he been asked. Typically it gradually worked itself into a grandstanding climax. Local jazz singer Rani Singam joined in three songs, the first being Swing With Me, originally known as Strutting Down Sukhumvit but now dressed with a distinct Broadway accent. 

Young composer-arranger Chok Kerong was generously afforded the spotlight with two songs with Singam, the meditative Frailty and the livelier You’ll Never Have To Dance Alone (Samba No.1), which showed that the art of song-writing here continues to thrive.

The 90-minute concert closed with Monteiro’s Soliloquy, which culminated with a solo cadenza and a swipe into the innards of the piano, and the thoughtful National Day Parade favourite One People, One Nation, One Singapore. In a Freudian moment, conductor Adrian Tan addressed the man of the hour as Sir Jeremy Monteiro, and then added, “Duke Ellington is great, but can’t we play some Jeremy Monteiro once in a while?” He had just echoed the thoughts of many in the audience. 

Jeremy Monteiro signs off with a wave.

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