Java Jazz 2017 (it ain’t over till we do the drum solo)

This is my third time attending this festival. The last time was last year when the big names included Sting, Hiatus Kaiyote, BadBadNotGood and Maliq & d’Essentials. This time around the stars are somewhat smaller.

On Day 1 of the 3 days, March 3, Nisha and I saw Tulus, Nik West, Zap Mama and Kinga, among others.

Tulus is my latest Indonesian discovery. His latest and third album, Monokrom has shown that he’s still ‘growing’, and what an album it is. He has all the hallmarks of an artist whose best days are yet to come. And we’re talking about someone who has 40 million Youtube views of one of his songs.

Tulus came on stage, barefooted and dressed in a black sarong. He didn’t need much else. His voice and his songs did most of the work. And you just have to love his humility. At the end of a number of tunes, he laughed and asked the crowd “OK tak?”. It was obvious that he was having such a good time and it was infectious. To me, this guy is going to get even bigger, although I do hope he doesn’t put on more kilograms 😀

Then there was Nik West. She’s a black female bassist, i.e. not your stereotypical black, female or bassist. Legend has it that she auditioned to be in Prince’s band, got the gig and as luck would have it, Prince died 😯

She came onstage loudly and in style with Prince’s “FunknRoll”. The crowd was mesmerised by her looks (purple mohawk), her acrobatics and her funky bass talent. Her band was on-point all the time. Nik covered Parliament’s “Give Up The Funk”, Chaka Khan’s “Ain’t Nobody” and Prince’s “Let’s Work” and “Kiss” for the encore. She’s on again in 9 minutes at this time of writing on the 2nd day of the Festival, so guess where I’m going now…

Kinga is the other female bassist at JJF 2017. Hailing from Poland, she is all of 19 years young. She is joined by her brother on drums and a keys man. Trad jazz. Impressive skill.

Java Jazz is a yearly affair and 2017 marks its 13th year. In terms of star-power, this year’s do is not that impressive, relatively speaking. For me though I had to go or run the risk of not seeing any concert this year, given the dearth of worthwhile gigs in Malaysia the last few years. Still, for around RM600 for 3 days worth of gigs, its value-for-money is hard to beat.

Chick Corea’s Electric Band came on about 12.30am on the 2nd night. There was Nathan East on bass, Dave Weckl on drums, Eric Marienthal on sax and a guitarman I didn’t recognise. The crowd was huge, which I didn’t expect. And 90% were people who ‘got it’. The 10% left after 15 minutes. They were tight and technically super-proficient. Like many others, I was disappointed that they didn’t play “Spain” or anything from Return To Forever’s “Romantic Warrior”. Still we left satiated. I hope to catch them again on the third day.

And I did catch them on the third day. They were all wizards in their art and craft, no mistaking that. And the repertoire was completely different from the previous day. Sadly though, no Spain, no RTF. Still, it was magic.

Ne-yo was the act with probably the biggest star-power on the third day (or any of the 3 days), if the size of the crowd was any indication. Entertained he did and the crowd lapped it all up. I was only looking forward to Sexy Love only, which he delivered.

Stanley Jordan plus an elderly Japanese bassist and an elderly Japanese drummer played at Outdoor Stage 1. This is a different modus operandi from when I saw him last in KL. That time it was just him alone with his guitars. And he also played the keyboards last night and he sang! Different, interesting and blows your mind that he can multi-task with 2 guitars or in last night’s case, guitar AND keys. Most, if not all the songs were covers, reinterpreted. The tunes included Eleanor Rigby, Fragile, Stairway to Heaven and a Bartok piece. Oh and, it struck me only last night that he could easily pass off as Prince reincarnate, especially with his hair done like that. And he looked younger than when I saw him, what 15 years ago?

Harvey Mason, Kirk Whallum and a keysman and a guitarist were under-appreciated despite their fame (in the jazz world at least). There were less than 50 people in the hall. They performed mainly jazz standards that they stretched to dizzying dimensions.

Besides Chick Corea, Eric Marienthal also did sax duties with Special EFX, an American guitar-bass-drums-keys outfit. Not too shabby. They were the last act we saw and also the final one of JJF2017.

All in all, it’s time and money pretty well-spent and yeah, I’d come back again if the musicians are up to par. See you next year perhaps?

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