Artist: AUBREY SUWITO
Reviewer: Sujesh Pavithran
LOCAL jazz fusion albums are a rarity, but even more elusive is the one such album that combines creative experimentation, imaginative arrangements, inspired musicianship and more than half-decent sonic attributes. Pianist-composer Aubrey Suwito, a familiar name in both the homegrown music and jingles industries, delivers the goods on Malacca Sun, his debut outing (the cover says Sun, the notes insist it's Son, but Suwito clarifies it's the latter ... a misprint along the way, it would seem).
Assisted by some of the most in-demand session musicians in town, Suwito takes the listener on a sonic trek that's almost familiar, but with enough adventurous detours to retain a sense of originality and fun. That this album was recorded at a state-of-the-art facility--Synchrosound Studios--and mastered to high standards only embellishes its appeal.
Suwito's pop sensibilities serve him well here, whether he's writing a blatantly commercial ballad (Take Me There, featuring Sandra Bok on vocals), or embarking on more eclectic sojourns (Pahlawan, Malacca, er, Son), or even dishing out funky-R&B stuff that's so undeniably American.
He occasionally delves into his ethnic roots for inspiration, adding rustic colours with instruments like the rebana and flute, but perhaps not always retaining the essentially dominating organic nature of the album.
The rhythm section, fuelled by the likes of drummers Gary Gideon, Shawn Kelly and Zahid Ahmad, with Steve Thornton adding percussive textures, and bassists Andy Peterson and the legendary David Yee (Ah Wa, that is ...), soars high, allowing Suwito the freedom to build vibrant grooves on tunes like Friday Fiddle, One Busy Street and Take Me There. Even if the patterns sometimes elicit a sense of deja vu, the mood is fully charged, seething with ebullience and humour. However, the programmed stuff--In My Dreams, for one--is significantly less effective.
Suwito's playing is measured and well structured, while local rock icon Hillary Ang delivers a couple of rich riffs (Friday Fiddle, Gotta Go) and Greg Lyons lends the oh-so-necessary sax tones, but time and again, it was Peterson's manic riffing (check School's Out) that had my adrenalin flowing.
A well crafted album, and clearly with potential to go a bit further than local shores ... now, if only there'd been more competition. Go on, root for the homeboys, especially because Malacca Sun deserves it ... on sheer merit.