5th Kota Kinabalu Jazz Festival 2011: Day 2. The Dream Continues

Friday’s perfect dream continued into Saturday: the skies were clear, and Day Two of the KK Jazz Festival burst into action with the exuberance of the SIA LITTLE JAZZ BAND. These guys from Sabah Institute of Art were jumping about on stage, playing effortlessly, with the biggest smiles on their young faces. Oscar (drums) and Aldoreo (bass) set up a funky bass line as Marc Elvin (guitar) introduced the other band members, Ben (guitar) and Gavin (sax and keyboards).

5th KK Jazz Festival Kota Kinabalu Sabah SIA Little Jazz

Gavin had said, “We play jazz, but from another category – Asian Funk – so sometimes it’s very exciting. We play covers of songs by Mezzoforte and Casiopea.” They were exciting! They closed their eyes and let rip. Aldoreo swung around playing to band members on either side of him, the lead guitarists did their Steve Vai thing, and Gavin moved between sax and keyboards, expressing his happy musicianship with no boundaries.

Following that, ELIXIR kept the mood pretty on the centre stage, continuing their good work from Friday night, while Labuan’s SPICE OF TONES set up on to the main stage. The Lau brothers Peter (drums) and Simon (bass) brought with them guitarist Mohd Hasyim aka Kici, gambus player Sidi Yusof, and singer sisters Genie and Gabry. Peter was particularly proud of these sisters, and cited them as an example of the band working well as a team. “Two years ago, they were just in the audience, and now they perform on stage! They’ve been working very hard. In teamwork we push them very hard, and if we work together, then definitely we can succeed!”

They played a set starting with the catchy number “Zapin Blues” by Farid Ali, then a selection of gentle Bossa Novas, which made a nice setting for Genie and Gabry to showcase their pretty voices in harmony. Stick with it, girls. You’ve sure got some good teachers in your team.

On the centre stage, there was an unscheduled performance by Japanese musician Hata Mariko and her violin accompanist, who happened to be in Malaysia and wanted to perform to express their thanks for the financial and other aid Malaysia has given to Japan, following its recent disasters.

Z YAN is the Chinese Bossa Princess! “I sing in Chinese, and I’m the first to do Chinese Bossa Nova, ” lovely Z Yan said. “We have heard a lot of Bossa Nova in English but not in Chinese, so I hope that everyone can really accept Chinese Bossa Nova!” To my delight, she was supported by that awesome jazz group we heard the previous dayWVC TRIO + 1. They played a series of pretty Bossa Novas, with recognisable intros from ‘Girl from Ipanema’ and ‘Desifinado’ before continuing with an original composition. Z Yan is warm and very personable, with a pleasant voice and a great smile. The Bossa Nova is a great musical form, maybe the Chinese will really take to it, now that they can hear it in Chinese. Z Yan — The new Astrud Gilberto? :D.

JUZZIE SMITH was back! He was scheduled to perform two nights, but I think he would have been back by popular demand regardless. This guy blew his audience away yesterday. This night, the centre stage was surrounded chock-a-block by excited people, all waiting for Juzzie’s amazing performance, and his warm and humourous interaction with the audience. He didn’t disappoint, and I heard many people wondering if there was any chance he could come back next year.

The BENJAMIN LACKNER TRIO was on the main stage. “For me, jazz is improvised music based on popular songs,” Benny Lackner said earlier. “That doesn’t mean songs from 1930s anymore, it means songs that people like nowadays. Our trio’s continuing the tradition of taking popular songs and improvising over them. It’s a very simple concept.” The concept might be simple, but modern jazz is not that simple, and we were beneficiaries of Benny’s studies under pianist Brad Mehldau, enjoying the intelligent and adventurous explorations by this trio.

During some competition announcements, ASEANA PERCUSSION UNIT set up on the main stage, already looking gloriously colourful and with a myriad of exotic stringed, wind and percussion instruments.

After a long and exciting intro, APU eased into “Caravan”, and we just had to follow the proverbial Pied Piper; the pipes and flutes and strings and congas and bongos of APU lured the audience right off their seats and to the front of the stage, arms and bottoms swaying to the music.

“It’s the energy that we have! I still remember two years ago the energy was there with you all! Especially with Mr. Frankie Fu, who came up and played the Chinese drums with us! So we WANT that interaction, we WANT that connection, and that’s the thing with APU – the energy we put on stage, to translate to the people out here to be involved in our music.”

I think members of APU must have the happiest dispositions on earth. There cannot be a place in the world where these guys cannot go and be absolutely adored. Their happy magic is primal and universal. They strike up their passionate percussive music, and bring us along with them; dancing, singing, arms raised and bodies swaying to their irresistible rhythms.

It was no different at Sutera Harbour, in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah. APU evoked the spirit PARTY and the KK Jazz Festival was a very happy, pulsing place at the end of the night. Must we really wait a whole year for the next one?

SabahSongs and Nasier Lee wish to thank Mega Boogie Sdn Bhd for giving us the opportunity to see a festival event from a new perspective, by allowing access to the stage site from the first day onwards, so that we could make these posts:

SabahSongs wishes to thank photographer Nasier Lee for working day, night, and dawn, to produce timely, beautiful photographs for these blog posts.

Thank you to musicians everywhere but especially in Sabah, for sharing their beautiful work, to be documented here in an online legacy for Sabah’s music industry.


  1. Hi,Joanna! Thanks again for your nice story about KK jazz.Fest!!! always enjoy this event…meet New & Old friends,Good music/Band,share idea!!! enjoy the good food together etc etc etc!!!!

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