Wednesday, March 29, 2006

BLUE ASIA - Hotel Bangkok (King)

Blue Asia is a concept devised by Japanese producer Makoto Kubota (you may know him from his work with Indonesia’s Detty Kurnia on Riverboat records), long-term side-kick Yoichi Ikeda and Malaysians Mac Chew and Jenny Chin, where he brings local musicians together with Western studio-based rhythms and techniques.
So far he’s brought us Hotels Ibah (Bali), Istanbul (Turkey), Waimea (Hawaii) and Vietnam, to varying degrees of success. Now he takes on the music of Thailand, and this is by some degree the best of the bunch so far. Instruments that are used in traditional Thai morlam music, such as the kaen (reed mouth organ) and stringed instruments like the phin and sor, dovetail brilliantly with dub, blues, modern beats and shades of jazz. It’s all topped off with some gorgeous vocals from Thai pop (Apple), country (Lady Nan) and morlam (Chawiwan Damhuen) singers.
Highlights include the tremulous electric guitar, dreamy keyboards and welcoming tone of Lady Nan on Sae Chumpae Pae Rak; Dao Ruang Dao Roi’s marching rhythm and oddly engaging cocktail piano opening; the down and dirty blues of Esarn Kornkaen (and its dub reprise near the end of the album); Lao Duang Duen, where the CD’s main featured singer Apple’s seductive, soulful vocals contrast delightfully with the appealing gravelly rap of a (strangely un-credited) male vocalist; and Klai Nong, where the contrast between programmed and traditional Thai instruments works to spine-tingling effect as the tune builds to an exultant funky climax driven by Greg Lyons’ vigorous sax-playing.
The next stop on Kubota’s fascinating musical travels is Morocco, and we can only wait with anticipation to see whether he can match this high watermark of creativity and invention.

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