Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Jazzing Up Manila - The CCP Way

CCP President Raul Sunico
For the second time around, the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) will gather more than 100 jazz artists and 15 bands from the Philippines and all over the world (U.S.A., Europe and Asia) as they perform jazz music, in all its styles (from the big band, swing, blues, fusion and experimental) from  September 17-22, during the 2nd CCP International Jazz Festival to be held at two venues of the CCP. 

The first international jazz festival, billed The Story of Jazz: 1st CCP International Jazz Festival, was held last August 2011. The festival will also feature workshops and lectures on the various jazz genres. 
In addition, partnerships with some hotels (Bayview Hotel, Diamond Hotel, Manila Hotel, Sofitel Philippine Plaza Manila and Traders Hotel) will enable some of the festival performers to provide a sampling of their expertise in these venues.  Aside from these hotels, other sponsors on the festival are the U.S. Embassy; the P.I. Jazzfest Foundation; radio stations Crossover 105.1 Manila, Radio High 105.9 FM, Manila Broadcasting Company, DZRH, 96.3 Easy Rock and Yes FM; cable TV channels Living Asia Channel and Lifestyle Network; business dailies Business Mirror and Business World; music stores JB Music and Lyric Microphone; local daily The Manila Times; news portal Philstar.com; magazines Highlife Magazine, Gala Magazine, Graphic and View; and the Filipina professional site Herword.com.   
Anything Goes Jazz Group
In a recent lunchtime press conference held at the Millennium Hall of the Manila Hotel, we were treated to a sampler of what to expect as some of the Filipino festival participants performed a number of jazz pieces.  Humanfolk, with Mr. Johhny Alegre (guitar), Jay Ronquillo (bass) and Mr. Jun Viray (drums), performed the Herbie Hancock-composed jazz fusion standard “Cantaloupe Island.”  

This was was followed up by a solo piano performance by Mr. Emy Munji who performed “Laura,” adapted from the theme of the 1944 movie with the same name. Finally, The Anything Goes Jazz Group, with Mr. Michael Puyat (vocals), Mr. Bobbet Bernadas (bass) and Mr. Archie Lacorte (saxophone), rendered their version of “The Lady is a Tramp,” a Richard Rodgers swing anthem from the 1937 Broadway musical “Babes in Arms.” 
Emy Munji
According to Mr. Raul Sunico, CCP President and an internationally-known pianist himself, the festival is “A recognition of the jazz genre as a major style of musical creativity through improvisation as well as the distinct theories in its harmonic, scalar, and rhythmic components that are both appealing and inviting to the listener.”  

He further stated that “The global attraction of jazz has reached a wide spectrum of enthusiasts, including Asia where its own brand of Eastern and ethnic music seems to fuse well with its style" Sunico also said that "Through the festival, CCP hopes to bring the Philippines into the mainstream of global jazz activity and make it a legitimate and recognized venue for international jazz festivals." Another objective the CCP hopes to achieve, according to Mr. Sunico, is that, thorough this jazz festival, it would “Create a harmonious relationship among the country's jazz figures and groups.” "

With the establishment of so many of these ensembles, it is imperative for the CCP to provide a prestigious venue for our talents to perform and be discovered, to play and to listen, to seek a camaraderie with which to collaborate with other groups, and to help propagate this wonderful musical genre for everyone to enjoy," Sunico also said. 
Humanfolk
Sandra Lim-Viray
Performers and groups whose production and equipment set-up would call for a larger stage and expected audience size will perform at the CCP’s Tanghalang Nicanor Abelardo.  On September 17 opening date will feature Blood Drum Spirit (U.S.A.), headliner of the 2011 CCP Jazz Festival; Malaysian acoustic guitar player Roger Wang; Indonesian guitarist Wayan Balawan and local performers Brown Fix, bossa nova artist Sitti and the Brass Munkeys.  

On September 20, Italian accordionist, pianist and guitarist Fabio Turchetti and prominent Japanese jazz vocalist Charito as well as local artists AMP Big Band and the previously mentioned Humanfolk will next take the stage.  The next day, it will be the turn of the Dutch quartet Buzz Bros Band and local artists Akasha, UP Jazz Ensemble and the 25-piece PYSB Jazz Big Band. Blood Drum Spirit and local artist Bob Aves and the UST Jazz Band perform on September 22, the last day of the festival.
Raul Sunico (at left) with guest performers

The Silangan Hall, on the other hand, will cater to jazz aficionados who prefer a more intimate setting. On September 18, Argentinian/Spanish jazz guitarist Neris Gonzalez and Japanese jazz artist Sin Kikuta, together with local jazz performer Sandra Lim-Viray, Low-Cal Jazz Ensemble and the previously-mentioned Anything Goes Jazz Group open the festival at this hall.  

The next day, it’s the turn of the previously-mentioned Fabio Turchetti and  Blood Drum Spirit and the Bandung Blues Project of Indonesia, and local performers Majam and the previously-mentioned Emi Munji and his orchestra.  Blue Drum Spirit and local performer Blue Sub closes the festival at this hall on September 21.
For more tickets and information, please call the CCP Box Office at tel. no. 832-1125 local 1409 and 832-3704 (direct line).  You can also visit the CCP website at www.culturalcenter.gov.ph.  All shows start at 7:30 PM except for the final September 22 show which starts at 9:30 PM. 

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Concert Review: Pet Shop Boys Live in Manila


The Pet Shop Boys - Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe


The Venetian blind projection screen
The one night only Pet Shop Boys concert, held at the Smart Araneta Coliseum, was presented by Ovation Productions.  This concert was to promote this duo's triumphant comeback via their 12th, and newest, studio album “Electric” (which boasts the singles “Vocal” and “Axis”). 
Since its release last July 12, “Electric” reached No. 3 on the UK Albums Chart in its first week of release, their highest album position since the 1993 release of “Very.”  Aside from Manila, the “Electric World Tour,” which commenced in Mexico last March, also included stops at Chile, Argentina, Paraguay, Brazil, Colombia, Turkey, Europe, Israel, Indonesia, China and Thailand, the last three Asian countries for the first time. 
The sizable crowd that watched the concert
This was to be the phenomenal electronic synth-pop duo's first ever visit to Manila.  The Pet Shop Boys, 3-time Brit Award winner (including for Outstanding Contribution to Music in 2009) and 6-time Grammy Award nominee, have, since 1985, spawned 42 Top 30 singles and 22 Top 10 hits in the UK Singles Chart and have sold more than 50 million records worldwide.  In fact, they are listed, by The Guinness Book of Records, as the most successful duo in UK music history. 
 The sizable, middle age crowd queuing for entry into the coliseum also included a number of senior citizens and even some who weren’t even born in the 1980s, the decade when the Pet Shop Boys began to leave their mark on the music scene.   
The duo wearing bull-shaped headdresses

The colorful lighting
The concert opened with entry of the cerebral, articulate, loquacious and now bald and bulky Neil Tennant who, with his winsome, wistful and high-pitched voice, started off with Opportunities – Let’s Make Lots of Money,” with  the terse yet flippant and casual Chris Lowe (almost always seen in his trademark attire of hat and impenetrable sunglasses) handling the keyboards and computer board, all the while just standing still. 
This opening number was followed by the songs "Memory of the Future," "Fugitive," "Integral" and "I Wouldn't Normally Do This Kind of Thing," after which, the tempo was raised a number of notches with "Suburbia,"  the audience rising on their feet for the first (and not the last) time. The laser light show, featuring intermittent blasts of dazzling laser light effects (provided by ER Productions), commenced with the song "I'm Not Scared" and "It Doesn't Often Snow at Christmas."  The next was an anti-war track from the "Electric" album called "The Last to Die," a cover of Bruce Springsteen's 2008 song.
The dazzling laser lights
Next was the song "Somewhere," the Pet Shop Boy's version of a West Side Story song, followed by "Leaving," "Thursday" (a new "Electric" song featuring a lively rap interlude from British recording artist Example and a memorable and catchy "stay for the weekend" chorus), "Love, Etc.," "I Get Excited (You Get Excited Too)" and "Miracle." 

Again, the duo raise the notch higher with a bevy of dance anthems to end the show - Rent,” It’s a Sin,” "Domino Dancing," the Village People cover "Go West" and  Always on My Mind.” All these songs animated the crowd who responded with emotional fervor.   Of course, what is a concert without an encore.  After a clamor for more, the duo responded with  West End Girls,” their most heard of song to date, plus the latest "Electric" single "Vocal" to end the hour and a half concert.  However, I was slightly disappointed that they didn't play the other Pet Shop Boys hits such as "Heart," "Love Comes Quickly" and "What Have I Done to Deserve This?"


The duo wearing their straw jackets

Chris and his mirror ball hat
All throughout  the concert, the duo made a number of costume changes, donning unique, avant-garde, extravagant and neon-intensive costumes, creations of costume designer Jeffrey Bryant, that could be defined as futuristic, wacky, mad and vibrant. It included jackets made completely from straws.  
They also changed wigs, headdress (including a bull-shaped piece to simulate minotaurs) and hats (including a mirror ball hat that, when hit by a spotlight, illuminated the coliseum).  Even when the duo were not on stage during costume changes, their pre-programmed electronic music still throbbed, pulsed and hammered away.
The upright beds
The giant projection screen, behind the open stage, is mapped on to a variety of surfaces including strategically-placed gauzes, set items and a back wall built to look like an enormous Venetian blind (or V blinds as they came to be known), created by Total Solutions, which opens and closes as part of the show. 
The first gauze, which goes up for the first three tracks, almost acts as a TV screen for the duo to perform behind.  The giant projection surface also disappears, in the blink of an eye, to reveal a wall of lights and strobes and then returns, as if by magic.  There are also rolling set piece performance spaces including an upright bed, which the duo stands in, which later revolves to become dance booths.  Aside from the duo, joining them on stage are 2 dancers, in peculiar headgear, who throw contemporary dance shapes, prance about and even ride on pogo sticks.
A combination of strobe lights and lasers

The resulting vibrant and pop-influenced show had everything; colorful lighting, vast projection screens with artily crafted images, content, incredible choreography, blasts of glittery confetti all over the stage (from cannons in the pit), a smoke machine, the hits and new songs (all delivered with character and conviction by Neil), plus it was full of energy.  Altogether, the concert was such a great show, more an art and design or theater-based production (created with acclaimed opera and theatrical designer Es Devlin), an unusual combination of concert, West End musical and art installation, rather than a normal rock music show.  A dazzling feast for the eyes as well as ears.