By Don Heckman
Each year when the Fil-Am Jazz and World Music Festival rolls around there’s a new opportunity to discover the significant role jazz continues to play in Filipino culture. And this year, the Festival’s seventh installment, was no exception.
On Tuesday night, Catalina Bar & Grill — the event’s warm and welcoming home — was filled with enthusiastic listeners. Many were from the Filipino community. Many were jazz fans, eager for a new musical experience. And many were drawn by the presence of singer Charmaine Clamor, often described as the “Queen of Jazzipino.” (For the uninitiated, “jazzipino” is generally described as a blending of traditional Filipino musical elements with the improvisation and swing of jazz.)
The lengthy program, hosted by Clamor and the irrepressible Bubba Jackson, offered a surprisingly wide range of artists, including the winners of the Jazz-Phil USA Talent search, some already established Filipino jazz artists and, in the headliner position, Clamor.
With pianist Andy Langham’s trio providing most of the backing, the music embraced jazz standards, material from the Great American Songbook, a healthy selection of Christmas and holiday songs, and an occasional Filipino melody.
It was delivered, for the most part, with ambitious enthusiasm, even though it was apparent that much of the playing reached across different developmental levels.
Some of the vocals occasionally ranged closer to American Idol excesses than jazz subtleties. There were times when the piano was played as a percussion instrument, its keys struck with a seemingly minimal awareness of its capacity for a rich, dynamic range of sound. And the quest for new ideas resulted in such oddities as a rhythmically over-intense take on the classic Christmas carol, ‘Silent Night.”
That said, there also was reason to praise the perky, pop-driven stylings of VJ Rosales, the powerful voice of Angela Vicente, the emerging talents of guitarist Vincent Reyes (one of the two winners – with singer Vicente – of the Jazz-Phil USA Talent search), the solid professionalism of guitarist Ric Ickard, the compositional abilities of pianist Winston Raval, along with the impressive versatility of harmonica player and pianist Noel Melanio and drummer/ukulele player Abe Lagrimas, Jr.
But there was little doubt that Clamor was the evening’s definitive Filipino jazz artist. Blessed with a rich, warm sound, intuitive musicality and irresistible swing, she also knows how to find the story at the heart of every song she sings. Her deeply felt, emotionally intimate reading of Leonard Cohen’s touching “Hallelujah” was the creative centerpiece of the entire evening.
In addition to her song offerings, Clamor possessed a vital, emotionally irresistible on-stage presence. Placed in context, that presence, combined with her stunning musical skills, thoroughly establish her as the model template for the many arriving Filipino jazz artists. And the next level of Filipino jazz will be reached when more performers achieve the capacity to follow in the footsteps of this splendid young musical artist.