The Asian Jazz All-Stars Power Quartet at Grappa’s Cellar

I went out with the girls last Wednesday to Grappa’s Cellar in Jardine House to watch the Asian Jazz All-Stars Power Quartet (which we all very inaccurately called the Eugene Pao quartet). Some friends and I were late because we had to rush from watching God of Carnage at Tsim Sha Tsui so we missed more than half an hour of the band and made it about two pieces before the break.

Very impressed on all fronts.  We had a very good table on the balcony that put us right in front of the band and a little over the other tables. Jeremy Monteiro (Singapore)  was the host and played amazing runs on the Hammond organ. They didn’t have a bassist so he had to pound on the bass line, and very effectively too. I also liked how there being a Hammond organ lent a very blues tinge to the whole thing; if they weren’t playing straight blues, it felt mostly very blues-based Jimmy Smith sort of thing going on.

One of my favorite moments was the face-off between Eugene Pao (Hong Kong) on the elec guitar and Tots Tolentino (Philippines, woot!) on alto sax. Very embarrassing how I had only always just heard about Eugene Pao and never listened to his music until that night at Grappa’s (well, I went to Hong Kong Records afterward but they didn’t have his CDs, which was strange).  Anyway, it was electrifying the way they were trading licks – a guitar and a sax doing call and response at such speed and intensity. (Was this the piece where afterwards Tots Tolentino kind of stepped back and fell off the stage? I can’t remember.) Not one false note and it didn’t even look like they broke a sweat.

I really admired Hong’s (Thailand) restraint on the drums, how his upper arms barely moved and every movement seemed to be just coming from his wrists. (He also had an odd way of staring at an angle at the floor during his solos, concentrating). Richard Jackson had smooth vocals and was absolutely terrific mimicking trombone lines.

A mix of standards and original compositions (my favorite was their take on “Blackbird”) and all around great rapport and connection among everyone in the band. They’ll also be playing at the Jazztastic! The Living Room Jazz Festival in Bangkok at the Sheraton for June.

(Photo by Annie. Poster from El Grande.)


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