KK Jazz Festival 2012: Winnie Ho ‘The Jazzy Sounds of Teresa Teng’ CD review

The Jazz Sounds of Teresa Teng is an album of songs which were previously sung by Taiwanese pop icon Teresa Teng, and now presented to us by Malaysian singer Winnie Ho and the musicians of Pop Pop Music, in a jazz idiom.

Memorable jazz is usually associated with something which was captured in the studio at that moment. Spontaneously. This album doesn’t feel like that. It feels like an album which was carefully thought out. Maybe that’s the “Chineseness” of it: Pop Pop Music is doing jazz but not leaving anything to chance!

The result? The most beautiful album – an almost divine album. Pop Pop and Winnie Ho bring the songs of Teresa Teng to us with intelligence, respect and care.

Winnie is perfect for this. Like Teresa Teng, Winnie is beautiful in the sweetest way. Teresa Teng reigned in Chinese music charts for some three decades, and her camera image was wholesome. Winnie glows with loveliness, and she does every justice to Teresa Teng’s memory.

Winnie’s voice is also lovely; clear and controlled, Pop Pop must really enjoy recording her. She sounds just like she looks. On this album her two duets, one with piano and the other with acoustic guitar, are particularly moving.

On ‘River of Clouds’, pianist Tay Cher Siang’s expressiveness ebbs and flows like a gentle tide all around Winnie.

Likewise, in ‘A Thousand Words’, Roger Wang’s acoustic guitar makes beautiful musical tendrils which reach out and entwine tenderly with Winnie’s melody.

The arrangements never overwhelm Winnie’s melody, but they are no less adventurous. ‘Where Does The Wind Come From’ has the musicians taking off in fantastic oblique directions before coming back to Winnie. I love all that exploration.

Julian Chan [saxophone] and Eddie Wen [trumpet] do nice horn work in ‘The Girl From South Sea’, a Bossa track which embeds Girl From Ipanema within it. The horns capture a bit of the past, playing happy, jumpy phrases in harmony, made me think of Horace Silver arrangements.

Similarly, in ‘Forgetting Him’, Salvador Guerzo’s sax creates that gumshoe movie feel, the old Los Angeles detective – think Charlie Haden Quartet West. Maybe ‘Forgetting Him’ will become a soundtrack for a Chinese detective movie one day…

For one track, bass player AJ PopShuvit sets up a rock groove, and Winnie sings ‘Rain of Tears’ as a soft rock ballad. I wouldn’t say it’s really raunchy…but Winnie should at least wear a tank top and some jeans to perform this one!

In ‘The Place of Our First Love’ Tay Cher Siang lets the piano keys fly. It’s modern, a David Benoit/GRP sound, but with his own gossamer lightness.

The last track is ‘Songbird’. On the album sleeve, Pop Pop founder Leslie Loh says it’s their tribute song to Teresa Teng. He likens it to a 1908 play by Belgian writer Maurice Maeterlinck about two siblings who search for The Blue Bird of Happiness. There is a gorgeous string quartet opening [Lim Jay Sern, Lau Yew Hann, Lee Chee Fatt, Dylan Lee], and the song is uplifting, like one is paying homage to Teresa Teng.

Leslie says Teresa Teng’s life was short, but she “contributed immensely through her music. Her spirits of benevolence is like her music, long lived and loved by generations after generations of music lovers.”

Leslie has previously said to me that this album does challenge many die-hard fans of Teresa Teng, with its new presentation of her songs.

Well yes, it’s very different from the original style, but so what? It’s still an easy-listening album: it’s gentle and melodic, and every voice in it is first class. It’s wonderful.

I recommend it to anyone who listens to music in the Chinese language, and to everyone who likes crossover work, and to everyone who ever heard of Teresa Teng, and to everyone who hasn’t.