This weekend, Jazz Club Phnom Penh will welcome another wonderful and unique talent through its esteemed doors. Yagi Nobuo is a jazz-blues harmonica player possessing of a grade-A studio CV which includes a Dr John and Art Neville album credit. The humble diatonic ‘marine band’ harmonica is a small and straightforward instrument that can be played by anyone… but masters like Nobuo are able to demonstrate a dazzlingly intricate playing technique which elevates the ‘harp’ to a different level. Circular breathing, reed bending and clever use of cross-keying (tweaking tonality by using a ‘harp’, with a fixed and limited set of notes, in a musical key for which it was not ‘meant’ to be used) allow the skilled harmonica player to do battle at the front of the band alongside powerhouse lead instruments like guitars and saxophones. Yagi Nobuo will be playing two sets of blues at Jazz Club on Friday, backed by club regulars Pavel Ramirez (guitar), Jeffro Sills (bass) and Toma Willen (drums). Local expat blues-harp man Colin Grafton will also be stepping up to trade a few solos with the man from Japan.
On the west bank of the Kampot River, the folks at Banyan Tree will be celebrating the venue’s second anniversary with a special party this Friday night. In the last couple of years since venue owner Sok Chiet (lead singer of The Kampot Playboys) took over the former Bodhi Villa, the idyllic riverside city has enticed more and more expats to up sticks from Phnom Penh or Sihanoukville and bed down in the land of pepper. While noticeably more hospitality businesses have sprang up along the riverside, Chiet has continued to purvey the city’s favourite Friday night live music and DJ session with weekly sets from local heroes The Playboys and many visiting bands. Mr Mammoth (the long-established power-rocking trio led by Bodhi and Kampot Fishmarket impresario Huge Monroe) and DJs Garuda and Noetics will be supporting a special second anniversary ‘unplugged’ set by The Kampot Playboys. Somehow, we get the feeling that Banyan’s neighbour-friendly music curfew will be extended just a little this Friday night… a birthday only comes once a year!
When the St George’s Trio put together three sets of classic English pop music for a gig at Alchemy a few months ago, they assumed that the performance would be a one-off. The audience’s reaction, however, to earnest versions of Kinks, David Bowie and even Ed Sheeran and Coldplay songs surpassed all expectations, resulting in a ‘back by popular demand’ gig at the Tuol Tumpung venue being scheduled this Saturday night. Although there was some concern that the acoustic trio, spearheaded by ‘Sizzlin’ Steve Sutcliffe (from Barnsley) on electric violin, had gone too far in their English-ness when they were overheard rehearsing a track by 1980’s ‘New Romantic’ group Duran Duran, the gig will definitely be chance to hear something a little out-of-the-ordinary.
Also on Saturday, the annoyingly tall, handsome and multi-talented individual known as Euan Gray will be regaling customers at Valentino’s Garden Terrace Bistro with an acoustic solo evening of finely crafted originals and judiciously-selected cover songs. When not executing musically perfect tenor sax solos in the city’s finest jazz ensembles, Euan can variously be found busy recording the latest young Cambodian sensation in the Songkites studio in Boeng Tumpun or coming up with another magical piece of songwriting that combines soulful vocal stylings with intricate words and ingenious chord structures. To make matters worse, Euan has recently taken to casually dropping in perfectly-intoned Khmer language verses to his mesmerizing live performances. Stop it Euan, you are making us all look bad!
One great thing about this time of year in Cambodia is the number of fantastic musicians visiting from far flung parts of the globe – and choosing to showcase a little of their talent for a short time during their summer holidays. You really never know who is going to turn up at your local open mic night. This Sunday night at Sharky Bar, we will have a chance to check out the wonderful music of Tiago Campos, visiting Phnom Penh all the way from the south of Brazil! Tiago plays solo guitar in the ‘Gaucho’ style of Argentina and Uruguay – an exquisitely delicate and largely instrumental form of classical and Spanish-guitar influenced music.
If, like me, you don’t really do summer holidays but actually choose to spend your time combing the juke joints and honky tonks of Phnom Penh, more power to you and… I’ll see you around the traps!