Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Johnny ALEGRE - Affinity 2005 (REPOST)
There’s not much rambling verbosity between the members of the Affinity jazz group, perhaps because their best conversations happen onstage – when their collective improvisations spark a seamless musical dialogue. Such is the interplay and level of affinity in this progressive jazz quintet that has been making waves lately in Manila’s tightly-knit but rather sluggish jazz community.
This new swing collective is comprised of some of the music industry’s finest jazz instrumentalists including Tots Tolentino on saxophone, Elhmir Saison on keyboards, Johnny Alegre on guitar, Colby dela Calzada on bass, and Koko Bermejo on drums.
Though also revered as top-call session musicians, these virtuosos have also chalked up years of experience as bandleaders in their own right, having led their own jazz ventures in the recent years.
United by a passion for jazz, their collective skills showcased in smoky club gigs and high profile concert dates, these stalwart artists found each other forging a new sound as they gradually break out of familiar “bebop” jazz territory.
By Tinnie Esguerra.
The Philippines is not automatically thought of as being a hotbed of jazz –young or old. Indeed one cannot think of any Filipino artist (with the possible exception of pianist Bobby Enriquez) who has enjoyed the benefit of exposure in the West. That there is a jazz scene at all in Manila might surprise more than a few. The fact is however, that due to the long political and cultural association between the Philippines and the USA, many musicians have studied in the US jazz colleges such as the University of Texas, University of California and Berklee and there has long been an interaction between visiting American and native Filipino musicians and singers.
Johnny Alegre’s AFFINITY is described as “high energy interaction”, “jazz on the fringe of danger”, and “Manila’s jazz superband” and a growing pool of ardent listeners are eager to follow the latest tales of this sonically and visually engaging jazz group. The Manila superband began as an ensemble that gathered in the city’s Pink Noise Studios to perform guitarist Johnny Alegre’s composition, “Stones of Intramuros”, in early May of 2002. The opus was a blend of musical, technical and communal creativity between the composer and his allies, bassist Colby de la Calzada, drummer Koko Bermejo, pianist Elhmir Saison and saxophonist Tots Tolentino.
Guitarist/leader John Alegre himself had studied at the University of the Philippines College of Music and was a founding member of the UP Jazz Ensemble. He brings to AFFINITY more than twenty years of experience, having participated in countless live bands and record sessions. Messrs. Bermejo, de la Calzada and Saison are also all seasoned professionals with innumerable appearances and recording credits to their names whilst saxophonist Tots Tolentino is at the very summit of the Asia-Pacific pantheon of jazz players. Tolentino has progressed through his days at Berklee to collaborations with Japan’s Terumasa Hino and Hongkong’s Eugene Pao among others.
Since its inception, AFFINITY’s activities have been ongoing; and on the live front, Alegre, de la Calzada and Bermejo have brought AFFINITY to the forefront of Manila’s live jazz scene. Their gigs span Manila’s high profile club and concert venues in modular formats: as an atmospheric guitar trio, as a hard-hitting quartet with Saison; and as the quintet par excellence with Tolentino and the hard-bop bassist, Simon Tan. The group’s prodigious concert activities include the annual French Spring event, the Fete de la Musique, the Jewelmer Jazz Festival and the Candid Records International Jazz Festival. They drew raves for their stellar performance in the Upsilon Jazz Concert XII at the University of the Philippines Theatre, which was aired on national television over RPN-9. Many of the group’s club dates are enhanced with appearances by the blues vocalist extraordinaire Cooky Chua and the young chanteuse Mishka Adams.
The groovy guitar/saxophone unison line in East Indies kicks off this engaging CD, leading into lyrical and forceful blowing by the internationally renowned sax master Tots Tolentino and featuring in turn the smooth and sensuous guitar of the leader and flowing lines of pianist Elhmir Saison. The empathy these musicians enjoy is evident throughout the set and in particular in the super relaxed interplay on Wind and Water. With the exception of Groove by bassist de la Calzada, all the compositions are by Johnny Alegre and feature the same satisfying mix of unison themes and standout solo statements by the participants.
This rare international release by Filipino artists gives the rest of the world a fascinating insight into what is a rapidly burgeoning Manila jazz scene.
By Alan Bates.
Johnny Alegre- Guitar
Tots Tolentino- Alto Sax
Elhmir Saison- Piano
Colby dela Calzada- Bass
Koko Bermejo- Drums
01. East Indies (6:55)
02. Guardian Angel (6:42)
03. Jazzhound (7:42)
04. Wind and Water/Stones of Intramuros (8:06)
05. Perfect Imperfect (9:14)
06. Vertigo (9:56)
07. Groove (8:20)
08. Remember Now (6:10)