By Don Heckman
Jazz singer Mon David had barely gotten into the second chorus of “Footprints” Saturday night when my wife turned to me and whispered, “Isn’t jazz wonderful?” No revelation there, of course, but I knew exactly what she was talking about. There we were, in the warm and welcoming environs of Catalina Bar & Grill, L.A.’s premiere jazz supper club, listening to a performer from the Philippines, embracing jazz as an utterly personal expression of who he is and where he comes from.
The event was the 4th Annual Filipino American Jazz Festival – a celebration of a seemingly unlikely blend of cultural expressions. And, by the time the long, entertaining evening was over, the unlikeliness was wiped away by both the impressive array of talent and the incomparable capacity of jazz to serve as a creative vehicle for artistry of every imaginable source.
Mon David, the winner of London’s first International Jazz Vocalist Competition in 2006, didn’t stop with his unique take on Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints.” His reading of Abbey Lincoln’s touching, too rarely heard “Throw It Away” found the song’s beating heart. And here, as elsewhere in his set, his remarkable voice, able to leap octaves in a single bound, combined with an utterly original approach to scat singing to establish him as a jazz talent with a big future.
Singer Charmaine Clamor, perhaps the most visible Filipino jazz artist on the current scene, affirmed her desire to maintain a strong connection with her roots as she grows and develops as a jazz artist. The set began with a selection from her new CD, “My Harana: A Filipino Serenade,” a collection of traditional courtship serenades, rendered in jazz settings. She followed with her unusual version of “My Funny Valentine,” which she titles “My Funny Brown Pinay,” transforming the Rodgers & Hart standard into an affirmation of Philippine beauty. And she wound up her brief, but brilliantly eclectic set with a romp through the jazz standard, “Centerpiece.” In each case, her singing underscored her growing status as one of the important and original new jazz singers of the decade.
Alto saxophonist Jon Irabagon‘s high spirited program displayed most of the reasons why he was the winner in this year’s Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition. He displayed his startling technical virtuosity in a romp through “Just One of Those Things” that somehow was kicked off at such a rapid tempo that it startled Irabagon, as well as his back-up trio. But no problem, the Autobahn twists and turns were negotiated with the same imaginative ease that Irabagon brought to his articulate blues soloing on Wayne Shorter’s “Charcoal Blues” and dark-toned balladry on Billy Eckstine’s “I Want To Talk About You.”
Also on the bill – pianist Tateng Katindig, a regular on the L.A. jazz front, revealed the speed and the fluency, if not always the sensitivity, of his Oscar Peterson influences: Bo Razon showcased his percussion versatility; and the Ben Luis Collective somehow managed to impart some needed Filipino seasoning to a program of smooth contemporary jazz sounds.
All of it, as my wife so spontaneously pointed out, was indeed wonderful – convincing testimony to the pleasures of what Charmaine Clamor colorfully and accurately describes as the new genre of “Jazzipino” music.