Chennai, Memphis, Bavaria
ZOETROPE - Juaniyo Arcellana (The Philippine Star) - November 3, 2014 - 12:00am

It was as if in a space of three nights we had gone through three continents though in reality we had spent another October in Manila, safe and sound in the confines of the noble and ever loyal city.

On the third of five Thursdays of the month jazz guitarist Johnny Alegre and band Humanfolk launched their Countdown to Saarang, a press conference cum mini concert at the Bar@1951 aka Penguin, to drum up awareness and raise funds for their trip early next year to the Saarang International Cultural Festival in Chennai, India, the first time in the festival’s 40 years that a Filipino band has been invited.

Saarang is a five-day annual social and cultural festival organized by the students of International Institute of Technology Madras where up to half a million people gather to celebrate the event, according to the press kit that came along with an extended play CD of the band, titled “Epiphany,” a set of four songs including the signature Para sa Tao that features vocalist/keyboard player Abby Clutario sounding as angelic as the alibata, and the YouTube hit Diwa ng Pasko that really felt like Christmas in Adriatico, soon to be temporarily exported to South Asia, the lucky madras. It was however in the instrumentals Hexagram II and Bon Talk where the band really lets loose, disappearing into the music sheets as if tracing either the number eight or infinity.

Other band members Rodney Vidanes on bass and Zach Lucero were also on hand for the full-force countdown, because as Alegre himself admitted he can’t do anything without the bass, even as the Imago drummer lent a hand a tad heavy on skins for the band’s rendition of Bright Size Life, owing perhaps to his being primarily a rock drummer. Sans the unbearable lightness of the Metheny original, this was one of the more rambunctious versions of the jazz classic we’ve heard, or was it the acoustics?

“Even Pat Metheny plays it that way these days,” Alegre said later, over beer and plates of arguably the best pancit palabok in the world by way of Sta. Ana Manila, as per Johnny, and we can only agree for the sake of Bright Size Long Life.

So Chennai it is for Humanfolk from January 7 to 11, 2015, why those numbers sound propitious enough, maybe the Philippine India Friendship Society or Air India can help shoulder their fare and accommodations, which can’t be very much considering the resiliency of Philippine bohemia. We can almost see Ms. Clutario doing a Bollywood impression while singing a post-Diwa ng Pasko, and when they hear her, the Chennai folk will surely be speaking in tongues.

On the same night at the Adriatic bar, shortly before Johnny and company slipped into the anonymity of the Malate dark, the Brat Pack took the stage with the unusual setup of double bass, drums and all-encompassing, crazy keyboards for some prime time and late night blues, jazz and soul. It was the first time in a long while to hear Chain of Fools, which we first heard on vinyl of the Aretha Franklin original back in the days of the old house. The lead vocalist Christine Mercado was a pack of boundless energy threatening to explode any minute, but if you for a moment closed your eyes you’d swear she was black. She handled the piccolo bass with characteristic aplomb too, complementing the staple bass man David de Koenigswarter, while nightcrawler RJ Pineda on keyboards dabbed the night with flourishes and impasto touches of dizzying ellipses and vertigo harmonics. The drummer Allan Abdulla was so good he was invisible, but maybe more on that in the next blog blog blog.

Only into the wee hours did we get drift of the Brat Pack’s forthcoming return gig in Memphis also early next year for an international blues competition, the same one they were in this year and were shortlisted after the local band Bleu Rascals won it all the year previous, and that there will be a sendoff party and concert in a blues joint somewhere along Macapagal Boulevard in January shortly before they fly off to Memphis, don’t step on their blue suede shoes.

A couple of nights later after having fully digested the palabok and the beer of penguins, we found ourselves bayside at the tent of Hotel Sofitel for the yearly Oktoberfest and a touch of Bavaria. The San Miguel draft beer was bottomless, and the assortment of sausages was too many to count on both hands, but the sauerkraut and pig knuckles were the best.

Oh and there was music too, an authentic German hoedown complete with accordion you could almost see Snoopy do his jig of polkas, schottisches and waltzes, while the merrymakers clung to each other’s hips and formed a dancing train that wove around the hall of the endless, wondrous bacchanal.

Some football players were on hand by way of Werder Bremen, and the celebration was such that you’d wonder which was more cathartic, this or that guy Goetze scoring the winning goal for Germany in the World Cup final last summer in Brazil, another continent, another story.

ABBY CLUTARIO AIR INDIA ALEGRE ALLAN ABDULLA ANA MANILA ARETHA FRANKLIN BAND BLEU RASCALS BRAT PACK
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