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.

Pop, jazz and rap

Marsha N da Boyz

Date: January 27, 2011
Location: The Fringe Club, Hong Kong.

Marsha Yuan and a group of talented musicians dropped by The Fringe last night to take part in the City Festival, an urban cultural festival showcasing local talent through a diverse array of artistic activities. Yuan, a former beauty queen and a B-list actress who has since reinvented herself as a sultry vocalist, possessed an expressive and sensual voice, but had difficulty finding adequate vocal support and a proper breathing rhythm for much of the evening. As a veteran entertainer, she effused a commanding stage presence, wiggling and twisting her curvaceous body in sync with the music in a titillating manner, and reminded me of Jessica, Roger Rabbit’s confident and sassy female companion. Feigned eroticism aside, it was not Yuan, but the group of talented musicians, including Ted Lo on keyboards, Eugene Pao on guitar, Peter Scherr on bass and Jack Greminger on drums, who lured me to the Thursday late-evening show in the first place. Ted Lo’s unorthodox harmonic arrangement of some of the evening’s standard numbers, including Sway and Summertime, brought an edgy, almost wild, harmonic thesis and a provocative bass line. Pao dutifully performed, though his playing was as conservative as the average lounge musician trying not to appear terribly bored while playing that same improvised tune for the umpteenth time. I wish Pao would, as he most certainly could, venture more into the outskirts of atonal counterpoints, rather than relying on fast running blue scales and augmented fifths – two of his dependable albeit rather banal signature moves.

Marsha N da Boyz at The Fringe.

Marsha N da Boyz at The Fringe. Photo Credit: The Fringe Club.