Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Borneo Jazz 2014: The Magic Continues

Borneo Jazz 2014 rounded off another successful year as the festival came to an end last Saturday night. The festival was held at its distinctive location by the beach at ParkCity Everly Hotel, on May 9-10, 2014.

At a press conference earlier on Friday, artistic director Yeoh Jun Lin mentioned that this year’s flavor was vocals. “With Anthony Strong, contemporary jazz singer-pianist; Vocal Sampling, a Cuban a-cappella group; Diana Liu, vocal pride of Sarawak; Junk o Func featuring vocal powerhouses Elvira Arul and Russell Curtis; and Iriao of Georgia with enchanting folk voices, this edition of Borneo Jazz promises a rich blend of vocals,” she told the press on Friday.

Pre-festival press conferences were held with an air of expectation. Perhaps the smaller scale of the festival, as compared to other jazz festivals in the region such as the Java Jazz and Penang Jazz, lends a little more room for experimentation with performer line-ups.

With the announcing of line-ups every year, the pre-festival season would involve a certain amount of imagination by festival organizers and enthusiasts alike if the line-up would leave a mark worth remembering.

Friday night came to a start with Sarawakian Diana Liu taking centre stage. Backed up by Malaysian drummer giant Lewis Pragasam behind the kit, she delighted the crowd with her flawless vocals. In her set-list were originals from her album, including crowd favorite “Sunny Days.” Following her act was Mario Canonge from Martinique. Accompanied by his band, Canonge played Latin syncopated rhythms on the piano.

Next was Junk o Func, which brought up the mood of the festival another notch. They certainly seized the show for Friday night as front-men Elvira Arul and Russell Curtis entertained the crowd with their punchy, gospel-influenced vocals and playful banter.

Capping off the night was Vocal Sampling, using their voices to imitate musical instruments and Cuban sounds. Their gracing the stage marked the third consecutive year for an a-cappella group to hit Borneo Jazz, ever since the success of Slixs in 2012.

Saturday night saw a crowd number reminiscent of 2010 festival days when the James Cotton Blues Band and Michael Shrieve had hit the shores of Borneo. Perhaps the word got out that UK’s top upcoming retro-contemporary jazz musician was in town.

Anthony Strong arrived with a head-turning portfolio of having played alongside BB King and being compared to Michael Buble and Jamie Cullum. He won over the crowd by his sheer class in performance and classic British wit, and was simply a joy to watch. He performed tunes off his album “Stepping Out,” such as “Too Darn Hot,” “Luck Be a Lady” and “My Ship.”

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