jazzy ode to Thailand
WDR Big Band wonderfully captures the `Colours of Siam'
If jazz is
meant to innovate and improvise, the WDR Big Band from Cologne,
Germany did so with great appetite
on Friday night, at Bangkok's 4th International Festival of
Dance & Music.
One of Europe's leading jazz ensembles, the Band is part of
Cologne's public radio and broadcasting studios. In the last
50 years it has won enviable fame for its unique range of
styles from traditional to fusion jazz, avante garde and world
Along with the Big Band styles of Count Basie, Duke Ellington,
Benny Goodman and Tommy Dorsey it has played
innovative arrangements of new-age composers like Bob
Brookmeyer and Bill Dobbins.
It has also accompanied charismatic stars like Phil Collins
and Quincy Jones.
Among the many accolades it has won are the German Jazz
Award and several Grammy nominations.
The self-styled 'musical ambassadors' for whom 'musical
borders are musical challenges' revelled in their penchant for
original orchestrations at the Bangkok concert where they
played a unique medley of rhythms based purely on Thai themes.
The concert was entitled 'The Colours of Siam' and the
themes incorporated everything from the City of Angels'
notorious traffic to its rain, islands, pagodas, nightlife,
spirit of Chiang Mai and colours of the Indian Pahurat
The melodies for the concert were composed by Thorsten
Wollmann, who lived in Thailand for four years, where he
taught music at Payap University. Married to a Thai woman,
Pimonmas, one of the mellifluous
songs was dedicated to his 4-year-old daughter
The musician is presently doing his Doctorate in Musical
Composition in New Zealand.
In keeping with the WDR Band's reputation for presenting
internationally-known soloists he fielded a bevy of talented
artistes from New Zealand, America, England, the Netherlands,
Sweden, Japan and Argentine, in the 17-member band.
Saxophone soloist Hayden Chisholm from New Zealand played
with skill and fluency as he interpreted a wide and varied
range of expositions. Chisholm has recorded seven solo CDs and
done concert tours on solo saxophone throughout Europe, Asia,
From the Bossa Nova percussive richness of 'Between Islands'
to the blues melodies of 'Bangkok Ways', the
Big Band style of 'City of Angels', Wollmann 'conducted'
with verve and spirit. His feelings were translated
into a personalised, persuasive idiom that the audience
responded to with enthusiasm.
There were Yanni-like intonations in numbers like 'Bangkok
Ways', which was a vibrant melange of energetic rhythms and
punctuated stops, with interesting interjections by the
and vibraphone. Wollmann called the composition
a musical interpretation of the 'Mai Pen Rai'
spirit of Thailand. It was indeed, a splendiferous celebration
of the Thai spirit.
Just like 'Traffic Jam' had an up-and-down movement,
captured the Buddhist stoic spirit in a scenario of slow and
hi-tempo rhythms, and 'Rainy Season' had an assorted array of
flurried piano notes and trumpet intonation, enveloping out
evocatively with bass guitar and percussion.
'Pagodas' was a slow, meditative pentatonic number while
'Night Sketch' had deep, dark rhythms with tonal variations,
almost as if to capture the complicated and multifarious
layers of Bangkok's nightlife.
'Tropical Nights' was full of connecting themes and rich
meanings as it combined evocative saxophone and trumpet
rhythms with a rich percussive interjection, suddenly
ending with a melodious tinkle.
It was these sudden turns and twists that made this concert
a night to remember.
The most interesting compositions were the unique interpretation
of the 'Royal Thai Theme' as well as a popular
Chiang Mai folk melody.
The rich pervasive notes of the brass band translated two
well-known Thai melodies with clever innovation, while the
ethnic folksy notes retained their identity in background of
vibrant jazzy rhythms.
Equally exciting was the composition on the Indian district
of Pahurat, in which the soprano saxophone imitated
the notes of the Indian 'shehnai' and the trombone
and trumpets resurrected a typical folk band of
Delhi or Punjab.
The WDR Big Band performed in India some years back and
have another Indian project coming up soon.
As musical ambassadors they have bridged many borders
and it was
exciting to witness the world premiere of their musical ode to