More Than Replay: an Exceptional Evening with Raffles Jazz

By Theophilus Kwek (12A01B)

Fairytale rehashes seem to be all the rage this year, what with Wicked’s half-year run at Marina Bay Sands, Storyline 2012’s TV-themed remix, and Piano Ensemble’s retelling of the Snow White saga at their annual concert, Legende, two weeks ago. Last night’s brilliant recreation of Little Red by Raffles Jazz, however, proved in many ways to be the most ambitious and inventive of the lot, without overshadowing the group’s stellar mix of jazz favorites.

It was clear from the start that this concert would be different – posters around the school gave away little else than a red cloak and a hint of a smile, while the event’s Facebook page merely told us to “expect the unexpected”. But these, and the musicians’ wide-ranging network of friends and alumni, were compelling enough to fill the hall within the first fifty minutes of ticket sales.

On the evening itself, the expectant crowd was treated to a series of standards by six different bands. These ranged from instrumental hits, such as Weather Report’s Birdland, to George and Ira Gershwin’s Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off, which Year 5 vocalists Brillia Soh and Bianche Lim delivered with panache. Several of Stevie Wonder’s evergreens, including a passionate rendition of Sir Duke by Benedict Tan, featured alongside early bossa nova reels, such as No More Blues, performed spectacularly by chairperson Priscilla Goh. And ending off the first half was a high-octane spin on Dizzy Gillespie’s 1942 classic A Night in Tunisia by Baik Gi Won, to which guest performer Aaron James Lee added a fantastic drums accompaniment.

The audience returned from the fifteen-minute intermission suitably impressed, but our musicians had barely just begun. Even before the chatter had quieted completely, Alex Chan’s sinister narration of Little Red Riding Hood stole the show, introducing each of the characters in a deft mime. We were soon drawn into the tale’s unabashed plot twists and clever reversals, which presented its title role as the unforeseen villain of the day. Victoria Yeo’s portrayal of the antagonist – equal parts chilling and convincing – made for a winning lead that held the plot together.

Not to forget, of course, the band hidden behind the sets, which was the true star of the show. Colouring each scene with just the right shade of jazz, they added joy, anticipation, fear and rage to the action, with keyboardist John Lee’s trippy improvisations, in particular, keeping pace in a parallel plot. The occasions at which the band joined the vocalists and actors in adapted or self-composed musical numbers, before returning to the background, were simply bonuses to the masterful action.

Throughout the evening, there were several moments of inexperience, but none of incompetence. Both in voice and action, the musicians were buoyed through the concert by their visible love of the genre, and even more so by a strong sense of professionalism and enjoyment. It was difficult not to be captivated – or at the very least, moved – by every single piece on the programme, and by the time the exuberant encore drew to a close, it was as if the night had flown by in no time at all.

Having risen to prominence throughout the past year with a string of well-received gigs, Raffles Jazz’s batch of 2012 truly gave their successful run a finish to be proud of. Replay was not only a creation of skill and style, but of soul, and left its audience so much the better for it.

Photos by Daryl Wong (Raffles Photographic Society)

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