Friday, December 6, 2013

A Musical Melting Pot: The Bob Aves Jazz Group

Wazzup Pilipinas!

Behind a rusted gate along Roosevelt Avenue, jazz was cookin’ on a Sunday afternoon. A melting pot of musicians gathered in composer Bob Aves’ musical studio to rehearse for the Out of the Tradition Concert happening this December 11, at the PETA Theater Center.

“My music needs a new breed of jazz musicians”, say Bob Aves. His music, which he calls Philippine World Jazz, is a fusion of modern jazz and traditional gong culture.

Once the Fender-slingin’ lead for the fusion band “Destiny” in the 70’s, Aves has maintained a constant presence in the Philippine music scene as a composer, musical director and arranger. His credentials could read like history of four decades of the contemporary music scene having worked with musicians across diverse genres. Pop groups, rock bands, folk singers, movie soundtracks – name it, he’s done it.

In the 90’s, inspired by his interactions with Maranaw chanter Sinding Banisil and ethno-rock band Pinikpikan, Aves focused on jazz fused with indigenous sound. He formed the Bob Aves Jazz Group, which has represented the Philippines in various jazz festivals such as the Zhujiajiao Water Village Music Festival in Shanghai, and the Jarasum Jazz Festival in Korea, among many others.

For the concert, Aves leads the band playing an Octavina, a small guitar commonly used for Rondalla. In his hands, the instrument most associated to barrio fiestas is transformed into a high pitched melodic lead for complicated jazz pieces such as “Until It’s Asian” and “Opening”, some of the tracks from his latest album “Out of Tradition” released this year. 

A member of the group, Tusa Montez, says she considers herself more an indigenous percussionist than a full-fledged jazz musician. Playing the kulintang makes her feel more connected to her Filipino roots she says, but playing with the Bob Aves Jazz Group makes her part of a different kind of OPM.

“There's always something new to learn whenever I'm with [Bob]. Discovering his genius through his music broadened my perspective as to what "OPM" ought to be-- very personal, no boundaries, and while the Western influences may be there (due to our colonial past), it is deeply-rooted in our indigenous music” says Montez who currently teaches Philippine, Asian and Afro-Latin Music at UP College of Music and the UST Conservatory. 

One of her students, Jazz Dufourt will be the percussionist for the concert. Dufourt, currently an Asian Music major in the UP Diliman College of Music, is remarkably only 17 years old. Though it seems uncanny that someone so young would be involved in Philippine World Jazz, Montez remarks that this kind of music is actually popular among the youth abroad.

“…at the Jarassum Jazz Festival in Korea in 2008, I was awed by the fact that the Jazz festival there was like a Rock event, Woodstock type; young people camping out all night long to listen to different Jazz artists from all over the world, I believe mainstream culture/masses have always been ready for Jazz and for something "deep"-- it's just that with the influence of the media and what the market is selling these days, what people have been exposed to are very limited.”

Montez and Dufourt’s traditional percussions form the bed on which saxophonist Ike Dy Liacco and keyboardist Nikko Rivera can let their jazz improvisations fly, such as in the pieces “Cross Country” and “Mixed Accents”.

Aves’ music is a playground for the expert skills of his ensemble. The piece entitled the “The Summoner”, from Aves’ album, “Translating the Gongs” begins with a kulintang motif derived from traditional Maguindanao music that is said to put shamans into a trance. Layers of string solos, keyboards and complicated drumming add on to the motif and the tempo escalates, but never loses its cool, steady edge. Keeping this balance of frenzy and finesse has even the most expert musicians on their toes.

Dy Liacco has a long history playing traditional jazz with his band Parliament Syndicate. Having been abroad as a session musician for cruise ships, he’s only heard of Philippine World Jazz through social media before. His performance in the concert this December will be his first time jamming onstage with the group.

Bassist Colby De La Calzada who has been working with Aves since the 70’s admits it’s a challenge keeping up with the demands of Aves’ music. Calzada has played for popular bands such as Side A and the APO Hiking Society and performed abroad with international jazz acts such as Kevyn Lettau and Jon Irabagon.

It’s this kind of challenge that drummer Harald Huyssen enjoys.

“I remember my first rehearsal with Bob I walked in thinking I knew what I was supposed to do only to realize I didn't. I honestly love the challenge, sound, and freedom of expression, so again I am thrilled to be here playing this music” says Huyssen, a Summa Cum Laude from Berklee College of Music in Boston, where Aves also majored in Composition.

Huyssen became an endorser for Zildjian products in 2012 and even has his own drumming tutorial video series on YouTube under the brand.

Like Huyssen, keyboardist Rivera gets to flex his musical muscles playing Aves’ compositions. Rivera is an endorser for Korg Philippines, and definitely gets to put his instrument to the test. For the concert, he alternates between playing modern jazz chords and ethnic percussive sounds on his synth. Other than his session work for the likes of Gerard Salonga, Mel Villena, and Ryan Cayabyab, to name a few, he also plays for the funk-fusion group Yosha.

Though the members of the group all have their fair share of followers separately, the Bob Aves Jazz Group performs seldomly in local venues, save for big jazz festivals and art happenings that happen few and far between. The “Out of Tradition” Concert is a unique opportunity to see these homegrown talents playing the seminal music of Bob Aves all together. This will be the first concert of its kind dedicated to Philippine World Jazz, and hopefully, not the last.

Out of Tradition: The Bob Aves Jazz Group Concert is on December 11, 8:00 PM at the PETA PHINMA Theater, PETA Theater Center, No. 5 Eymard Drive, New Manila, Quezon City. Tickets are P500, P1000, and P1500. For reservations, contact Ticket World at 8919999 or call the PETA Theater Center at 7256244 loc 23, 09164376551 or email

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