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Cool grooves, Philippine style

Charmaine Clamor and others put the zing in that swing at the third annual Fil-Am Festival.

December 10, 2007|Don Heckman | Special to The Times

There weren't a lot of familiar names in the lineup Friday for the third annual Fil-Am Jazz Festival at Catalina Bar & Grill. At least not for anyone in the audience who wasn't Philippine. Although singer Charmaine Clamor has begun to get some much-deserved attention as an appealing new arrival, many of the other artists are best known in their native Philippines.

But surprise! The program was a delight, a nonstop string of first-rate performances testifying to the high quality of Philippine musical talent as well as to the global reach of jazz.

Pianist Tateng Katindig, Philippine-born but an active Southland player since he moved to Los Angeles in the early '90s, opened the evening with a rhapsodic take on the standard "A Beautiful Friendship" before digging into an up-tempo romp through a group of imaginative variations on "Caravan."

Far less known in this country, singer Mon David was the winner in 2006 of the first London International Jazz Competition for Vocalists. His set, ranging from a stunningly improvisatory reading of "Footprints" to the grooving lyricism of "I Remember You" was the stuff of world-class vocalizing. At a time of real paucity in top-ranked male jazz singers, David showed the potential for a significant breakout.

The same can be said for guitarist Johnny Alegre, whose pair of original tunes -- "Offering" and "Barnabas" -- managed to invigorate his inventive lines with Pat Metheny-like drive and a sound reminiscent of Gabor Szabo.

Alto saxophonist Julius Tolentino took a different tack, roving across jazz history, including the bebop licks of a Charlie Parker-inspired "I Can't Get Started" and the honking, bar-walking-style "Jacob's Bounce."

A pair of pianists followed. Veteran pianist-composer Toti Fuentes, joking with the crowd and looking hearty after recovery from cancer, played a gorgeously lyrical rendering of "Alfie." Victor Noriega's "Pandangguhan," a take on a traditional Philippine folk song, blended fiery virtuosity with irresistible swing.

The evening's most remarkable set was provided by the versatile Abe Lagrimas. After playing sturdy drums to back the other acts, he took center stage, playing a harmonically lush version of "The Nearness of You" before demonstrating the ukulele's jazz possibilities with his own swinging "Centipede."

Clamor, wrapping up the impressive program, offered a pair of numbers celebrating the roots of the evening: an incisive transformation of "My Funny Valentine," titled "My Funny Brown Pinay," followed by the proudly declamatory "Ako Ay Pilipino" (I Am a Filipino).

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