Taking swing on a new swing
DIRECT LINE - Boy Abunda () - July 25, 2005 - 12:00am
There’s not much rambling verbosity among members of the Affinity jazz group, perhaps because their best conversation happens when their music is being played. 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 composed of some of the music industry’s finest jazz instrumentalists, including Johnny Alegre on guitar, Tots Tolentino on saxophone, Elhmir Saison on keyboards, Colby de la Calzada on bass and Koko Bermejo on drums.

Though also revered as top session musicians, they have chalked up years of experience as bandleaders in their own right, having led their own jazz ventures in recent years.

United by a passion for jazz, their skills showcased in smoky club gigs and high-profile concert dates and the much-anticipated self-titled debut album release, these artists found each other, forged a new sound and gradually broke out of familiar "bebop" jazz territory.

Affinity is the brainchild of its founder and lead guitarist Johnny Alegre. He is a formidable composer, top-notch record producer, one of the founding members of the UP Jazz Ensemble and a major player in such progressive jazz/rock outfits including Phase II, Hourglass and more recently, hard bop influenced J.R. Cobb Jazz Chamber.

It was in early 2002 – then taking a respite from J.R. Cobbs’ self-imposed hiatus – when Alegre broached the concept of assembling a CD anthology to Rhany Torres (an indie record producer and jazz anthologist), to provide jazz listeners a sample of Manila’s jazz scene – then and now.

The suggestion bore fruit with the release of the two-volume Adobo Jazz series of CDs, the first of which featured notable performances by groups such as WDOUJI, Majam, the J.R. Cobb Jazz Chamber, The Bobby Enriquez trio and other Pinoy jazz legends. Inspired by the Adobo Jazz project, Johnny followed through with Affinity.

In May 2002, starting with phone calls to friends, Tots, Colby, Koko and Elhmir, Johnny managed to assemble the stellar group that originally converged in the studio to record his musical composition, Stones of Intramuros.

"There’s something phenomenal about this band. There’s very little verbosity, and when we don’t indulge, it’s seldom about musical issues. We just talk about life in general and the things going on around us," Johnny confides.

With the release of their album under independent jazz label Candid Records, Johnny hopes doors will open – perhaps to offer a better introduction of themselves to the community of concert organizers here and abroad. Comprised mostly of his original compositions, the melodies of the songs in the album veer away from the traditional A-A-B-A and head-solo-head repetitions. "The album has a concert hall feel, a wide-open feel with lots of room for exploring," shares Johnny.

"We hope to make jazz viable in the scene," Johnny continues, "so we’re evangelizing, spreading the good word. This is like a crusade."

Out with the blue note, in with the new note, Affinity sets its sights on infinity as it redefines the boundaries of Manila’s jazz and takes swing on a new swing!
Vhong The Father
Vhong Navarro is one of the best young comedic actors today. He makes me laugh. His timing is impeccable. Maybe because he’s a fantastic dancer honed to excellence under the watchful eye of the formidable Chito Roño, "bossing" to Streetboys. But Vhong is not perfect. He is the first to declare this. He has excesses and weaknesses just like everyone.

But he is also lucky in his career. His moment is "now," which to my mind is the perfect time for someone as talented as he is to bloom into a big-time actor. He has D’Anothers, a Star Cinema movie currently showing under the direction of Bb. Joyce Bernal. And for someone as hot an actor as he is, Vhong again finds himself in the eye of the storm. He is being accused of being an irresponsible father.

He denies this. He says, "I am not a neglectful father to my two children (Ice and Bruno). I get strength and inspiration from them."

Provoked by some writers to talk about the annulment case Bianca Lapuz filed against him, Vhong again refused to comment since there is a court order that prohibits them from commenting on the pending case.

Vhong comes from a broken family. He knows how it is like to be a product of one. So his wish to be a good father comes from this experience. He says he learned from his own father that one can be a good dad in spite of a failed relationship.

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