THE BUND. SWING TO JAZZ
Singapore Conference Hall
28 April 2018)
This review was published in The Straits Times on 30 April 2018 with the title "A heady night of jazz by a Chinese orchestra".
Once in a while, the Singapore Chinese Orchestra led by Yeh Tsung goes out of its comfort zone to perform jazz. There was an evening of mostly Gershwin in 2013, but this year's offering felt closer to home with the Roaring Twenties in
's “ Shanghai, China of the East”, as its theme. Paris
A misty air hung over the hall clothed in burgundy drapes, illuminated by crystal chandeliers, to conjure the feeling of exoticism and decadence. Yeh, ever the dapper dresser, leapt on the podium to conduct Law Wai Lun's Old Shanghai, the jazzy prelude to music written to accompany the black-and-white classic movie The Goddess.
This concert of short works and classic standards showcased the talents of Chinese jazz singer Coco Zhao and trumpeter Li Xiaochuan. They were backed by the locally-based trio of pianist Chok Kerong, drummer Tamagoh and bassist Christy Smith, who all had solo moments in the spotlight. The orchestrations by Law and Eric Watson were so idiomatic as to render the so-called cultural divide a non sequitur.
Many popular Chinese songs were adapted from originals in English, including Gei Wo Yi Ge Wen (Give Me A Kiss) by Earl and Alden Shuman, which was sung first. Zhao is an entertainer who puts one immediately at ease with his satin-smooth vocals, often raising the bar with spots of ad-libbing and extemporisation.
Never wont to over-extend himself, he left the heavy-lifting to the unassuming Li, whose musings with a muted instrument were duskily bluesy but soon rose to a full-blooded ring in the highest registers. Together, they courted and charmed the audience in Chen Ruizhen's nostalgic Huai Nian (Yearning) and Chen Gexin's very familiar Night In Shanghai.
On his own, Li lit up the stage in Glenn Miller's Moonlight Serenade and Frank Foster's Shiny Stockings, more well-loved music where the spirit of swing and big band was well captured by soloist and orchestra. In Li's own
Reunion, he was
joined by SCO's Tan Man Man (erhu) and Han Lei (guan) in a heady
triple concerto act. For sheer intensity, the smouldering blues of Miles Davis'
Flamenco Sketches in slow bolero-rhythm was a hard act to follow.
Conductor Yeh also related his own personal connections with jazz, including growing up in Shanghai, being a distant relation to Yan Hua whose Blossom Under The Full Moon was performed, and his first paid job in St.Louis, Missouri. WC Handy's St.Louis Blues was a worthy tribute, as were two Harold Arlen numbers, Over The Rainbow and Blue Skies, which Zhao lapped up ever so gratefully.
The final number was Jon Hendrick's I Want Your Love, better known in its Chinese version Wo Yao Ni De Ai, which roused an unusually boisterous audience into full participation. They had to be coaxed with two encores, What A Little Moonlight Can Do and a reprise of Give Me A Kiss, before consenting to disperse after what was a heady evening.