^

Witchdoctors of Pinoy Jazz

PLAYBACK - Juaniyo Arcellana () - February 3, 2002 - 12:00am
There’s a new Filipino jazz band around called the Witchdoctors of Underground Jazz Improvisation, or WDOUJI. They come as the local scene is in a hiatus, with just a handful of bands still keeping the faith: Majam, Ugoy-Ugoy, Kulay. With the young WDOUJI, things should be getting exciting again.

Released under the independent label N/A Records, WDOUJI’s debut CD Ground Zero is a significant study of the limitless possibilities of the jazz form, as malleable as it is disciplined. Songwriting credits are virtually halved between guitarist Aya Yuson and drummer Koko Bermejo, who are daring enough to take risks in their respective extrapolative compositions without going too off tangent.

Because that is what jazz should be in the first place, in particular Pinoy jazz –walking the fine line between the enigmatic and the profound.

In the late ’70s, when the Pinoy rock scene was bursting out, jazz guitarist Eddie Munji quietly came out with an album that not many aficionados understood, but which was clearly not your run-of-the-mill release.

Munji’s album though did little to define the parameters of his chosen medium, unlike Pinoy rock, which generally had Tagalog lyrics dubbed over western rock and roll.

Just what was this animal known as Pinoy jazz? The question again comes to mind upon hearing WDOUJI’s Ground Zero.

One might well come up with the conclusion that jazz, like any other progressive music, defies nationality. Ground Zero, recorded barely a month after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the US, is our own contribution as dutiful citizens of the jazz world at large.

Of the players, Yuson is the most familiar. I recall having heard him play with his old band –was it Legacy? –at the joint Suburbia or something, in the heart of Malate. At the time, his riffs were rather tentative, as if he was having difficulty trying to get his licks in edgewise.

Legacy, at any rate, was basically a showband, a kind of Rage-type band in the pub jazz mode. They played requests written down on napkins if so inclined. Most bands doing the commercial circuit are never above this practice, as even the popular Acoustic Alchemy will bear out.

Yuson’s playing has improved vastly, fingers confidently running up and down the fretboard showing how much he has matured as a musician. He has grown up with the music and knows his scales.

Bermejo’s timekeeping provides adequate ballast to keep the band’s sound anchored, and his compositions, though initially indistinguishable from Yuson’s, speak well of his control of dynamics.

What is jazz after all without the improvisation? You can picture them playing with music sheets in front of them, but this does not limit their propensity for free form jamming, and not for mere flash.

Bassist Simon Tan, the only member without songwriting credits in the album, stretches the strings of his upright fretless, the thrumming a lesson in pliable rhythmics.

Saxophonist Ronald Tomas is one of the most self-effacing we’ve heard on the instrument, usually a take-charge one in quartets such as this. We can only suspect that he has spent innumerable nights listening to John Coltrane’s Ballads, through which you may even hear a pindrop in your soul.

While WDOUJI may not have the wild, groundbreaking verve of Joey Valenciano’s Majam, neither are they altogether safe and conventional. True, one song seems to blend and disappear into another, but it could be the members, for all their youthful exuberance, are plainly exercising their chops.

It is not an altogether focused CD, but you can get lost in the blur of the moment. And Ground Zero has the time and luxury to grow on the listener who may after all these years still be perplexed at this animal named Pinoy jazz.

Yuson’s playing has improved vastly, fingers confidently running up and down the fretboard showing how much he has matured as a musician. He has grown up with the music and knows his scales.

Bermejo’s timekeeping provides adequate ballast to keep the band’s sound anchored, and his compositions, though initially indistinguishable from Yuson’s, speak well of his control of dynamics.

What is jazz after all without the improvisation? You can picture them playing with music sheets in front of them, but this does not limit their propensity for free form jamming, and not for mere flash.

Bassist Simon Tan, the only member without songwriting credits in the album, stretches the strings of his upright fretless, the thrumming a lesson in pliable rhythmics.

Saxophonist Ronald Tomas is one of the most self-effacing we’ve heard on the instrument, usually a take-charge one in quartets such as this. We can only suspect that he has spent innumerable nights listening to John Coltrane’s Ballads, through which you may even hear a pindrop in your soul.

While WDOUJI may not have the wild, groundbreaking verve of Joey Valenciano’s Majam, neither are they altogether safe and conventional. True, one song seems to blend and disappear into another, but it could be the members, for all their youthful exuberance, are plainly exercising their chops.

It is not an altogether focused CD, but you can get lost in the blur of the moment. And Ground Zero has the time and luxury to grow on the listener who may after all these years still be perplexed at this animal named Pinoy jazz.

A RECORDS ACOUSTIC ALCHEMY BASSIST SIMON TAN GROUND ZERO JAZZ JOEY VALENCIANO JOHN COLTRANE MAJAM PINOY SAXOPHONIST RONALD TOMAS YUSON
  • Latest
  • Trending
Latest
Are you sure you want to log out?
X
Login

Philstar.com is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

FORGOT PASSWORD?
SIGN IN
or sign in with