Natasha Patamapongs at Peel Fresco

June 25, Peel Fresco. Natasha Patamapongs on vocals, Ted Lo on keys, Peter Scherr on double bass, Robbin Harris on drums.

I was really looking forward to seeing Natasha Patamapongs, the vocalist from the Thai jazz band Mellow Motif, perform. So were a number of guys it seemed, and by that I do mean nicely-dressed young men. (Almost said eye-candy there.) She was practically handshaken, hugged and bussed all the way to the bar and eventually to the stage. There’s the allure of musicians for you.  Ted Lo, with that generous crop of graying, curlier Seiji-Ozawa hair behind her (the keyboardists always suffer when I take pictures from where I usually sit), was mobbed by girls during the break and I think he might close to 60 already. The place was packed.

The music was unrehearsed and impromptu and yet spot-on, which caters very much to my preference that you should know your instrument so well you can let rip a solo on the spot. Natasha Patamapongs read her lyrics from an iPad and passed around her iPhone for the chord changes if someone in the band didn’t know the song. They played jazz standards, mostly from Mellow Motif’s self-titled first album. Natasha Patamapongs had her signature bubbly and yet intimate voice, very smooth and assured, romancing the microphone, singing like no one’s watching her. She also had a particular way of gesturing with her hands in order to get just the right register for her voice. I’m not talking of Mariah Carey’s dribbling-a-basketball moves; more like small, minute movements with her fingers and her thumbs, picking just the right sweet spot in her vocal cords for that particular note. I also liked the way she did her embellishments, very tasteful and restrained  (my favorite was when she sang Love for Sale). When the rest of the band did the solo rounds, she’d step off the stage to give them the limelight and watch from the bar. (She also has a surprisingly low speaking voice. Very radio.)

The very laid back Ted Lo, who also plays the drums and the bass, had very nice stuff on the keys. It would have been much better with an acoustic piano (Fresco can only fit a digital one) but he put so much texture in his playing I think I might not have noticed it was a digital one if I was just hearing him. Crisp attack, great dynamics, impeccable sense of timing, and successfully unintrusive by occupying mostly the treble range, which contrasted really well with Natasha Patamapong’s more rounded sound. When they played more uptempo pieces, his feet would go ballistic and knock the beat against the piano bench legs.

Peter Scherr, a Fresco regular and a very jovial guy who cracked jokes for the audience’s benefit, was the one who took quite a few, more avant-garde liberties during his solos and went into the other scales. At one point he was mimicking his own lines, which we, the crowd, really liked. No virtuoso acrobatics here (and I’ve always thought that given how grand a double bass looks already anyway, showing off would just be too pretentious) but a lot of warmth and confidence in the playing.

Robbin Harris, strong and silent type, always kept a godlike calm even during his solos, where most other drummer would just take advantage of the space and let rip a bit too much (a guest drummer they invited up later intruded with his solos too often that I felt like the band was almost forced to accommodate him). Lots of energy but all controlled. I think what struck me the most was the variety of sounds and patterns he made with just wire brushes and his hands – unlike rock where it’s almost like all downbeat all the time, in jazz you have to get really creative to go beyond the usual tsch-tsch on the snare or tinkling on the cymbals and fill in those bits before the next downbeat, which he did quite successfully.

An enjoyable night.

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