By Chan Siew Lian
David Gomes & Junji Delfino – It’s Christmas Time Again
Every December, a condition known as jingleitis afflicts me. It starts with a visit to the mall, and is severely exacerbated by tonally malfunctioning carollers. Symptoms include cold sweat, nausea, shortness of breath, migraine and tinnitus. It was with trepidation then that I picked up It’s Christmas Time Again.
Here, local jazz pianist David Gomes and wife, Junji Delfino, belt out 12 Christmassy tracks that swing almost as much as Santa’s belly. Five are original compositions by the couple and one Bert Delfino, whom I suspect is a sibling elf in disguise. Of these, a personal favourite is ‘Make My Christmas White Again’. Of the standards, which include the number one cause of jingleitis, ‘Jingle Bells’, I like ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’ for its contrasting basslines (played by Joe Pruessner) and ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’ for its arrangement.
Together with musician friends and a family choir, Gomes and Delfino have created an album that’s really more jazz than reindeer music. Not surprisingly, the piano takes the lead throughout, going on improvisational sprees flagged by soulful syncopation. Personally, I’d have liked to see more bass and drum action but then again, this is a David Gomes and Junji Delfino album. However, even the vocals felt restrained with somewhat docile phrasing.
Gomes’ voice runs clear and confident, with slight nuances of a BBC reporter for its lack of emotion. Delfino is more expressive, although her vocals lack the dark, mellow timbre that has come to define many great jazz vocalists. On ‘Peace This Christmas, Please’, a song which highlights the mess we’ve gotten ourselves into, she sounds a bit like Lea Salonga urging naughty boys to drop their guns. I mean it literally.
The point of this album, I think, is found in these lines in ‘What Christmas Means to Me’:
The joy of giving comes from receiving
The greatest gift the world has ever known
When that Child was born on Christmas morn
That’s what Christmas means to me
It is particularly significant that David Gomes does without the band on this song. Gomes and Delfino give us their reason for the season (and for the album), and Gomes, on vocals and piano, finally lets his emotions through. It works well.
So get this album if you’re a fan of jazz, jingles or in need of the perfect sedative when the in-laws find out you cremated the turkey. Or maybe, get this for its attempt to put Christ back into Christmas.
Now someone please de-jingle me.
Double Take – One Voice, Six Strings, Twelve Moods
I felt queasy. The crystal clear sounds of a guitar had hit a note deep in my belly. I rushed to the stage, where a guy had his fingers flying all over the guitar. A girl holding a microphone bopped to the groove. They looked like they were having a lot of fun.
That was in 2002, when I first met Double Take. It was also the first time I, a calculative, miserly Scrooge, bought an album right after watching a performance, knowing nothing of who these people were, if they came from Mars or what their favourite curry was.
Incidentally, this is that historic debut album.
Since then, finger-style guitarist Roger Wang and vocalist Mia Palencia, who make the winning combination of Double Take, have gained a loyal following. Their CD has also undergone major surgery at least twice: once because the old CD cover was hands-down the ugliest I’ve seen and sales would be a problem for sighted fans, and more recently, a bonus disc with 6 live tracks has been added. However, this review only covers the single CD release.
The album features 12 songs; four of which are solo guitar pieces, and five original compositions by the duo. Mia sings in English, Malay and Tagalog (a tribute to her Filipino heritage). All songs are arranged by Roger.
The album opens with ‘Baby I Need You Now’, and here we are introduced to Roger’s deft fretwork, Mia’s warm voice and a Milo tin-sounding drum machine. Which is a shame, as the lattermost steals the attention, encasing the song in a rigid, synthesised structure.
Fortunately, things improve on the other tracks. Roger’s genius syncopation and ability to juggle the bass, harmony and melody lines shine through, especially on the instrumental pieces ‘Bunyi Gitar’ and ‘Fingers Dancing’. On ‘While She Sleeps’, we see a more pensive side of Roger, as each note is given the space to breathe.
Complementing Roger’s chops is Mia’s easy, expressive style of singing. Four years ago, Mia recorded this, at the tender age of sixteen, while her peers were busy experimenting with pimple creams. These days, her voice has matured even more.
Together, they move seamlessly from song to song, evoking moods influenced by jazz, blues, Latin and folk, while extending the borders of the vocal-guitar genre. It is a creative partnership that works wonders.
My only complaint is the overly mushy ‘Love Scale’, which makes me cringe: “Your kiss is like the note I used to miss / Now it’s a groove that I can’t resist.” Brrrr… At least we know there’s something that can be improved on.
Az Samad – Acoustic Gestures
I’m not a big fan of instrumental music. I mean, you don’t notice all the background music in Ally McBeal until Vonda Shepherd starts crooning – usually when Ally kicks at the snow but misses, then tumbles into a ditch with a twisted ankle.
Only the musician who knows his or her instrument’s voice intimately, and has found a way of expressing their emotions through it stands a chance of reaching others with his playing.
Az Samad, son of National Laureate A. Samad Said, one half of guitar outfit ‘Dalcha Duo’, is a finger-style guitarist on his way to doing that. Although yet to acquire an A to Z vocabulary of the acoustic guitar, his comprehension of the instrument’s sonic properties is still pretty solid.
His self-produced debut album, Acoustic Gestures, features 12 of his original compositions for solo acoustic guitar. The only additional instrumentations are a shaker on ‘Train to Ericland’, a song dedicated to British guitarist Eric Roche, and Shelley Leong’s vocals on ‘Princess Lullaby’, which lend the song an air of the ethereal.
Az employs a wide range of musical influences to push each song’s emotions, be it the punchy, percussive boldness of ‘Latah Setinggan’, the celebration and freedom of the Celtic-influenced ‘The C Factor’, or the quiet contentment of the beautiful ‘Senja Mula Menangis’. I also loved the tongue-in-cheek feel of ‘Lagu Royalti Belum Datang’.
Az plays classical guitar on two tracks, namely ‘lrama Espanyola’ and ‘Do You Insult Me Waltz’, and these are the only tracks I dislike, probably because they plod along and are too minor-sounding for my taste.
I was surprised to learn that only three takes were recorded for each track – the best take ending up in the album. Although some flaws can be heard (and a buzzing bass string does get distracting after a while), I think it’s still a bold move by Az not to let perfectionism get in the way of him conveying his feelings.
Overall, Acoustic Gestures is a good effort by an up-and-coming musician. I think the world at large would be interested.
On a side note, I played ‘The C Factor’ on repeat in my MD while shopping for Christmas. I can personally vouch that it cured me of nausea and a bad migraine.
Chan Siew Lian is a wannabe rockstar and occasional jingle writer.
First Published: 22.12.2004 on Kakiseni