KL International Jazz Festival 2013 : Jazz Rainbow Over the KL Sky




Kuala Lumpur (KL) did it again! Following the success of the first attempt in 2012,KL International Jazz Sdn. Bhd supported by  Dewan Bandaraya Kuala Lumpur (DBKL), under the patronage of the Honourable Mayor of Kuala Lumpur, Yang Berbahagia Datuk Ahmad Phesal Talib made another huge jazz blast through the second edition of KL International Jazz Festival in 2013 (KLIJF 2013). Eventhough it had to be rescheduled due to the General Elections, the KLIJF 2013 still managed to present the combination of acclaimed international jazz stars and the best local talent, just like what they have been aiming from the start. The bright light, big metropolitan city of Kuala Lumpur went swinging and bopping high for one day full on September 14, 2013. Located at the University of Malaya, the committee placed 4 stages to hold no less than 28 bands. Each of the band rested their case one after another. Some played sweet, some went wild. There were bands who opened up a new musical dimension by crafting new ‘hybrids’, some other played their original compositions and some showed their creativity by re-arranging well known jazz repertoires. The festival combined international legends, the ‘tops’ of the game and some of the most potential local talents. It was a jazz-vaganza served ellegantly. New place, new spirit, we’re excited and glad to be able to watch every perfomance and more than happy to cover this fest up for you.


The KLIJF 2013 started at the Creative Stage Amphitheatre which was located outdoor with a cool jazz dance in traditional swing. We don’t see it often anymore, yet it actually still alive in KL. Right after that came  Viv Adram & Northern Jazz Unit. Vivian Adram is a singer from Penang, Malaysia who takes music, particularly jazz as her release. Other than singing, she’s been pursuing her career as a creative director by trade and working in advertising for 15 years. At this international jazz event she chose to perform with one of her bands, Northern Jazz Unit. To open up the party she sang some standards like “How High the Moon”, also her own song such as “Alone”, which speaks about her life journey and  “Passion Road Groove” which again talks about their experience. Joining Viv Adram are Kenny Gabriel (bass), Siva (drums), Jerome Quah (keys). Two years digging up jazz, the music that she said suits her perfectly, she already transformed as a beautiful jazz butterfly. Good talent with good ability to perform. Not only she can sing jazz very well, she can also write song and  has the charm too. At least after watching her, now we know that Penang doesn’t only stand as the Hawker’s (Street Food) Paradise, but this state also has bright jazz artist. Viv, your calling is definitely singing, you should take this road and sing some more!


John Dip Silas Trio started the All About Jazz stage. John Dip Silas is one of the young jazz players to look at. Stationed behind the keyboard, he got supported by Amir Ridzwan (bass) and Ijat (drums). They were playing modern jazz, post-bop, to thirdstream and the trio carried the music very well.  In such a young age, John is still 25, he is probably one of the few pianists who actually play that kind of jazz which makes him unique in his own way. They were playing standards cover such as “On Green Dolphin Street”, “More Human”, “I Could Have Danced All Night”, and a John’s original. A little bit about him, John holds a degree in jazz performance from Sydney. He just got back to KL around 3 years ago but quickly ruled the jazz pianist market in KL. His playing reminds us of Brad Mehldau and Glasper, but at the same time we could hear a lot of “roots” such as Oscar Peterson and Art Tatum. In short, John brings hope to jazz in Malaysia.


UiTM Jazz Ensemble made its home, the famous, largest institution in Malaysia, University Teknologi MARA proud. For this festival, they were showcasing FIVE saxophonists backed-up by their best rhythm-section. No surprises, the band was conducted by Patrick Terbrack, a very well respected saxophonist from the States who lives in Kuala Lumpur. The fresh and energetic band played contemporary jazz by contemporary jazz musicians such as Bob Mintzer and Herbie Hancock’s “Cantaloupe Island” as the last song. The line-up they brought to this festival brings refreshment not only for KLIJF but also for UiTM, and hopefully for Malaysian music. Meanwhile,  Friends & Strangers did their thing at the host’s stage.


KLK Quintet led by Patrick Terbrack (alto saxophone) who currently works as a lecturer at University Teknologi MARA and the director of Kuala Lumpur Youth Jazz Orchestra. Together with Kerong Chok (organ), Wei Xiang (piano), Chanutr Techatana-nan a.k.a Hong (drums) and Marques Young (trombone), this act was expressive with the strong taste of straight ahead with splashes of hard swing as their main dish.


As UCSI Contemporary Ensemble represented the university they based on ellegantly, on the other stage we found TrioMyn, a project owned by bassist Maziyar Khavajian and Yasser Sakimehr (keys) who were both Jazz major music students of Cultural Center in University Malaya. Drummer Malek of ‘Mad Sally’ took the drum position and completing the formation of three. Different musical surroundings were created by combining jazz, rock and Latins with specific patterns from wide Middle Eastern areas such as Arabic, Turkish, Kurdish, Azeri Sufi devotional, North Indian all the way to Mesopotamian.

Then came the time for us to watch another homegrown band, Bassment Syndicate. Consists of Omar Ibrahim (drums), New Zealander Hiran Benton (keys), New Yorker Marques Young (trombone/vocal)and Koh Keng Hui (bass), the band set its base in ‘grey’ area where jazz, soul, hip hop and R&B live in harmony. So if one ask, is it possible to hiphop-ing with jazz, Bassment Syndicate will happily show them that it’s not only possible, but it has high fun factor too. Very grooveable, this band sounded like Lettuce without the brass section or RH (Roy Hargrove) Factor. Halim and Friends took over UCSI Contemporary Ensemble by bringing pop/slow rock with kendangs and some nice swing here and there. Adele’s “Skyfall” came nicely from Halim with his haunting voice and strong guitar playing, Sting’s “Roxanne ” in medley with “Every Breath You Take” and “An Englishman in New York” among their repertoires. This act soon followed by a rockin’ patterns being painted on jazz  by Cats in Love.


From Singapore came The Christy Smith Quartet. The leader Christy Smith is a professional musician, arranger/composer and teacher, originally from USA but has been living in Singapore since 1993. This man has been committed to jazz for more than 40 years. Straight ahead shone bright from this contrabass extraordinarie’s stage. Joining him was the drummer we have met and covered several times, Erik Hargrove.


KL Jazz Project reprised their great appearance last year with new twist. The busy Patrick Terbrack was back again serving the straight-ahead paintings on the jazz palettes along with other senior compatriotes including Steve Thornton, Razak Rahman and the Managing Director of KLIJF, Rodin JS Kumar. All of them worked as a solid unit in painting the seductive jazz paintings for almost an hour.  Performing well known songs including The Beatles’ “All the Lonely People” in the spirit of jamming, they delivered joy and fun to their audience. Lovely gift by the experienced players.


The main stage called MAS One World Stage began its service at 4:00 pm local time, featuring UM Big Band who gave a Jazz Tribute to the iconic, legendary entertainer of Malaysia, P.Ramlee. No one will argue that this charismatic figure’s contributions shaped the entertainment history in his country Malaysia and neighboring countries including Indonesia (where his father came fom) and Singapore. During his life the late legend P. Ramlee scored an impressive track record: acted in 65 and directed 34 movies, and sang around 400 songs. The UM Big Band recomposed some of his evergreens including P.Ramlee’s hit from the movie “Perjodohan” (1954), “Hujan Di Tengah Hari”. They also played some other international songs such as “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” and “Cry Me a River”. Todd Gordon who was supposed to be the next performer even joined the big band. Such a great opening of the main indoor stage. Back to the outdoor stage, KoolSkool, a group of three delivered jazz standards and Malaysian folk/evergreen songs. With Aznaff (sax), Jaya (electric contrabass) and Razey (guitar), KoolSkool delivered soothing jazz sound with exotic Asian modes when given chance to improvise.


The KLIJF 2013 got busier at 5:00 pm. Three stages ran at the same time that forced us to go back and forth frequently from one spot to another. Two outdoor stages held Sounds & Music Design Academy and Chris Ong & the Color Codes. Let’s take a closer look at Chris Ong, a Singaporean famous guitarist. Inheriting the spirit of legendary blues and classic rock stars, Ong got a full support by Color Codes to cover songs from all-time blues masters such as Jimi Hendrix, Otis Rush and Sonny Boy Williamson. Right after the opening song “Goin’ Down” originally from Jeff Beck, Chris went forward with his tasty, energetic blues rock, heating up the cool afternoon in Kuala Lumpur.


Started exactly like the previously mentioned groups, the main stage presented Todd Gordon. This Scottish artist has performed in many legendary places such as Ronnie Scott’s, Glasgow Royal Concert, Birmingham Town Hall and The Royal Opera House just to mention a few. He was the opening act for Dionne Warwick and appeared with Carol Kidd, the famous BBC Big Band, Juliet Roberts, Barbara Morrison, Clairdee among others. His clear baritone crooning voice is perfect to sing swing standards. At this year’s KLIJF Gordon brought Sinatra back alive by taking some everlasting hits from Sinatra’s songbook from “How High the Moon” to “Summer Wind”.  He’s been in jazz squared circle for 10 years with more and more praises gained from critics around the world. If you only know Michael Buble as the modern day crooners, from now on add Todd Gordon to your list. This man can definitely tell a lot of story with his warm and tender vocal quality, and definitely, he never fails to bring his audience to a memory lane where swingin’ big band and fine crooners dominated the music scene. Standing applause and crowds ‘attack’ to take photo with him after the show became a solid proof that his show was highly successful.


At 6:00 pm sharp the whole 4 stages ran altogether, serving different jazz corners. The band formed in 2008 and often brought socio-political messages within their lyrics, Square Circles ran on Creative Stage with 5 personnels, including bassist Kevin Theseira. ‘Scientific’ band, refuse to go along with the popular trend, yet dipped in full freedom jazz playing belong to this group. Then Jose Thomas enlived the other outdoor stage. Jose Thomas is a Malaysia’s legendary jazz guitarist who has been giving a lot of contribution towards the Malaysian jazz development. He was one of the original  members of Asiabeat, the famous ethnic fusion group from the country, also widely known as the guitarist of Sheila Madjid. All his illustrious career, experiences and fine artistry skill were reflected ellegantly in his show. Once again the Managing Director Rodin JS Kumar joined the stage. It’s always a joy to watch a legend who like to pour his heart out through streams of melody in live gig.  This show was filled with lots of intense groovy jazz-rock action on stage.

On All About Jazz stage, Carl Orr Quartet delivered some intense action. Carl Orr is said to be one of the best jazz-rock guitarists, we agree with it. But let’s add some more qualities that he has. This man has high musical imagination. He’s has patience and tolerance, meaning that he doesn’t like to take all the glory and knows when to run wild or stay calm. He’s not trying to rock the jazz and vice versa, it all naturally comes from him. He also has his own way to interpret challenging compositions without overdoing them. All of these are the quality of Carl Orr. Pursuing his career for 4 decades and experienced as the band leader for around 32 years, Orr has worked with many big cats like Billy Cobham, George Duke, Ernie Watts, Randy Brecker, Nathan Haines, Sean Wayland and many, many more. His Carl Orr Quartet which consists of Andy Noble (keyboards), Joe Downard (electric bass) and Francesco Mendolia (drums) have been going to many stages for quite some times, playing materials ranging from their own repertoires to covers of Burt Bacharach and The Beatles. Cool quartet with the sound of soothing guitar, again we got a nice jazz package from the fest.


Imagine when all the musical scopes mostly found in the Southern part of America that’s been living as a part of one’s life experience meets the gift from Above, served honestly and sincerely, straight from the heart. Think of having jazz, blues, gospel, soul, funk, RnB and even hiphop melt as a hybrid that can be taken as new yet feels familiar. Won’t you love it when an artist doesn’t just play to make a living, instead they let you feel what they feel, trying to establish a soul connection to you through their music? All of these we felt through Ezra Brown‘s performance. He transcends music into a new perspective that can touch our humanism from every angle. It feels good, it feels nice, it’s so groovy that you can’t stay still, plus you feel that you gain new experience in a sincere way. Ezra is not just a fantastic saxophonist, he’s also a true entertainer. His stage act, the way he involved the audience as a part of his show, the song selection and the way he blend everything as one were all miracle. Steve Thornton and Erik Hargrove were part of his team for tonight. His rendition of “Amazing Grace” was one of the best we’ve ever heard so far. It was dipped in gospel blues, just like he served a sermon in bluesy jazz church. “Playing music has got to be fun and should be able to bless others, because that’s the reason why God gives you such talent.” he said. So instead of trying to hit as many notes as possible, the fun factor should be taken seriously.  No, Ezra doesn’t have to think too much about blending the Southern musics as one, he just need to let it flow, out from his inner soul then you’ll get exactly that, naturally. Such a wonderful 5-star show we’ll never forget from an amazingly gifted saxophonist. .


The heavy rain started to pour down around 8:00 pm, but that didn’t seem to stop the audience from coming to see the rest of the festival. A different vibe mesmerized from the next show, this time from Zamajobe. This beautiful lady started her professional career exactly 10 years ago by releasing her debut album “Ndawo Yami” (My Place) which directly exposed her to the international scene. Her silky smooth voice sounds like heaven in singing the seductive sound of Afro-jazz, soul, smooth funk to contemporary jazz and splashes of Latins. Standing in the corner of Afro-jazz, soul singers like Sade, Asa and Les Nubians, Zamajobe has all the power to rule the music industry in the near future. The ups and downs in a decade of life’s journey just make her stronger. With the release of her new album ‘Journey”, she’s ready to embark a new adventure that certainly will exceed everything she has previously gained: gold sales status, many critical acclaims, international fame, even a shining highlight by singing “Lovely Day” and “Maybe Tomorrow” in Lee Ritenour’s album. Her singing style settled in simplicity but full with feelings and emotions in perfect balance. Smooth, sensual, chilling and relaxing, this new young diva has everything needed to success. Jose James, Steve Thornton and Erik Hargrove were accompanying her. What a great chance to be able to see her in the KL Jazz Festival. Zamajobe is definitely one of the most beautifully gifted talents we have seen in years. Hail to the African Princess of Music, we love you.


Mentioned as “The hardest working all originals performing isntrumental bands in Australia”, The Subterraneans clearly deserve it. They have been working hard since 2008 by performing in many festivals and several regular gigs in Sydney. Speaking of the music style, this group should be considered as rich, because they are not playing just pure jazz but also has wild avant funk, hot rock punch and even reggae inside their music. You could feel as if Bob Marley and Led Zeppelin gathered and played jazz, probably that’s the good way of describing their crafts. We don’t hear too many jazz from Oz today, so it’s good that the festival invited them to come. A brave group with so many to offer indeed.


This is not the first time for us to see Lee Ritenour. He has performed a couple of times at the Jakarta International Jazz Festival, the latest one was last June in Jakarta International Java Jazz Festival 2013 in an unforgettable encounter with his long-time friend who contributed a big deal to his career, Dave Grusin (read our report here: http://jazzuality.com/java-jazz-festival-2013-2/jakarta-international-djarum-super-mild-java-jazz-festival-2013-day-1-part-2/).  But no matter what, it’s always enjoyable (and memorable) when got the chance to see his passionate act. Lee Ritenour is one of the legends that was clearly born to jazz. Through his illustrious 4 decades career, this guitar virtuoso has gone across many musical lands from rockin’ fusion, smooth jazz, swing to Latins and classical. We have interviewed him twice, he never hesitated to explain whatever we asked in a very friendly, down to earth manner. 42 albums, over 3000 sessions, charted over 30 hits, Lee Ritenour is simply one of the most important living legends in the current jazz world. It’s always fascinating to see him sharing the happiness to the audience. His gesture, his act, his delicate playing, even his smile when he’s really into his play reflected joy that none of us would miss. In one of our interview he shared his opinion that jazz festivals are needed in order to socialize this music to more people. So after Jakarta, he comes to KL to participate in sharing the love of jazz through this festival. The audience enjoyed it. “Lucky you in Indonesia that he comes there often.. but now we got the chance to see his live performance, thanks to the KLIJF”, said one of the excited fans. Tonight Lee brought his friends: Tom Kennedy (bass), Roger Biwandu (drums) and Jesse Milliner (electric piano). He played some of his famous repertoires that was opened  with “Smoke n Mirrors”, “L.A By Bike” and ended with “Rio Funk”. As we predicted, Zamajobe joined Lee’s session and sing two songs. Another great show captured from Lee Ritenour’s session.


Japan is not the place where jazz was born, but this country does produce many jazz bands/artistes that are so unique and different. They usually love to invent something new to compliment the traditional jazz originated from USA. Look at the way Casiopea and its members become an inspiration all over the world or the Soul and “Pimp” Sessions just to mention two examples. Now here comes another band from Japan that you should keep your eyes on, Kazutoki Umezu Kiki Band. This band is led by Umezu, an devilish reed player who can play as fast as a lightning. Basically they play jazz-rock fusion, but they can carry the music to reach the most hardcore one you could ever imagine, plus the rebelious punk spirit that can take you to the danger zone. While Umezu transformed into a speed of light, the band members balanced his move at the same pace. We found humorous acts, he could also play ballads so melancholy in the deep bluesy soul or even Japanese traditional music known as Enka. Umezu is not young anymore, but you’ll be surprise to see how aggresive he can go on stage. A mind-bending show, shocking, as if you got stuck in a jet train passing the underground tunnel of Tokyo. Welcome to the hardest core side of jazz. Man, what a show.


Portland, Oregon, USA has produced so many great jazz talents throughout the years. Esperanza Spalding grew up in there, our friend saxophonist Patrick Lamb has been building his shining career in there too. Now it’s time for us to meet a Mexican-American lady who was born in Portland who has had her big moments as a pianist but later reached even bigger success by playing saxophone. Her name is Jessy J. She has toured with many famous jazz artists including Jeff Lorber, Euge Groove, Paul Brown, Jeff Golub and Gerald Albright, she also has built her Latin side by performing with the Hispanic Musician Association ORchestra, Sheila E, Armando Manzanero and Christian Castro just to mention a few. In Kuala Lumpur she brought sexy, seducing sax session that was really hard to resist. What we have in mind is, never give saxophone to beautiful ladies if you can’t stand the heat, because it can turn to be a lethal weapon for them.


One of the things that we love from jazz the most is its ability to assimilate with local culture and create new possibilities both in sound and style. Now look at the next artist we cover, Rudresh Mahanthappa. He’s a second generation of Indian-American who lives with music ranging from South Indian Music to all kinds of progressive jazz. Coming from this kind of background, he created a new hybrid where jazz and Indian carnatic musical pattern seamlessly blend, plus the electronica. He’s been playing this concept most especially with his multi-cultural ensemble named Samdhi, the unique, out-of-the-world ensemble that he brought into this festival. A very different atmosphere came from his stage, uniquely showed the openness of jazz and the the freedom of playing music in genius way.  If usually one has to use traditional instrument to let any particular ethnic music live inside jazz, Rudresh shows that it doesn’t necessarily so. He just used modern/Western instruments, still the specific sound of carnatic was captured inside his repertoires. Then, how about  the way Rudresh move? He was like tranced, bending and straightening both of his legs in sync with the rhythm, in a way that probably no one has done before. Another edgy hardcore jazz was sent nicely. One of the most important show to highlight in this festival indeed, and what a way to wrap this year’s edition with a show as unique as this.

Yes, Jazzuality.com is from Indonesia, but we are really happy to see how far jazz grow in Malaysia, one of the closest neighbouring country that even share common historical and cultural roots. Looking at the successful jazz development in both countries, we believe that there are many things to achieve if we work together. It will bring benefit to the future of jazz in both sides that can give positive impact to the South East Asia if not the world. Even when politically Indonesia and Malaysia are often challenged by bunch of problems, an established jazz connection can certainly bring peace and harmony. In the 80’s there were tv program that was aired live in both countries called “Titian Muhibah”, why don’t we bring it back alive again in jazzitude?

Malaysia is a great nation that certainly have many great jazz talents, even some players that can stand among the top rank in South East Asia or even the world. Just like Indonesia, Malaysia is not the nation where jazz was born, yet jazz is found alive well and kicking in it. And speaking of the ‘ingredients’ needed to push this particular genre much forward, Malaysia has it all: a healthy and solid community, a lot of skillful talents, loads of potential young lions, good number of fans and last but not least: a jazz festival as good and well-coordinated like the KL Jazz Festival. Some homeworks are still waiting to be taken care of, but clearly they are already on the right path. We asked some attendance about the acceptability of jazz in Malaysia, most of them answered that the number of fans keeps growing. “It’s getting there.” said one of them.

We hope to be back again next year and see more success story about Malaysian jazz scene. We wish to meet more Malaysian jazz artists and know them as close as we know our own. If you are living in Malaysia and into jazz, and you wish to see bigger jazz scene, keep supporting your jazz talents and the jazz events around you. We extend our respect and grattitude to the organizers of the KL Jazz Festival, may this event live on for many, many years to come. Keep jazzin’, Malaysia! Swing it up, bop to the top!

See more pictures:

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Reporter: Riandy Kurniawan, Deo Karmawan
Photographer: Qaedi Fuadillah, D’Nov Karmawan


  1. It’s a pity you did not stay on at the amphitheatre to listen to the music. You might have enjoyed Cats in Love – a true blue ol school rock band, and definitely not a “pop jazz” band. Come on by No Black Tie on Sept 24. They’re playing and so are Azmyl Yunor and the Sigarettes. You *will* have a good time if you enjoy rock.