Pop, jazz and rap

Karen Mok @ JZ Festival

Date: October 20, 2012
Location: Shanghai Expo Park, Shanghai.

Against the backdrop of the Bund, the JZ Festival Shanghai offers two days of non-stop music making on eight stages in the former Shanghai Expo site. Jazz musicians from all around the world, including international names such as trumpeter Roy Hargrove and local jazz jewels like Golden Buddha (金佛), participate in this jazzy love affair. The lineup also features an unlikely participant – Karen Mok – a pop singer from Hong Kong better known in the Chinese-speaking world for her long legs and outrageous, Gaga-like wardrobe than a jazzy voice. On JZ’s stage, her stage mannerism was clearly more pop diva than Ella Fitzgerald – at one point while singing she ripped off her rock star-esque leather jacket to reveal a tight, glittery tube dress that juicily flaunted her bodily goods. As she rollicked and frolicked on stage, and as she maintained sustained arousing contact with Xia Jia (夏佳)’s grand piano, Mok would easily be mistaken as Roger’s very badly behaving Jessica. Her timbre was serviceable, but exhibited neither a smoky, sultry texture nor a unique register that typically defines each jazz singer. In the few instances where she attempted at scat singing, the melodic train would come out sounding rehearsed and emotionally flat. As an artist, she excelled by being extremely engaging and communicating – with her killer seductive gaze handily roping in her audience. Her rendition of A Fine Romance was playful and rhapsodic, while a jazzified version of Cloudy Day, one of her top pop hits, oozed with melancholic solitude. Her supporting musicians: Lawrence Ku on guitar, Bei Bei on drums, and Xia on keyboards, were top-line folks in the China jazz scene who dutifully provided accompaniment, albeit arguably underutilized. This evening would mark Mok’s first live jazz performance in her storied pop career, and while on stage she announced, to approving delight of the fans, that her latest recording project would be an English jazz album to be released in January 2013. Her fans should take note.