In May 2013 we caught the AMP Big Band’s first few gigs at the then newly opened Balete@Kamias. A lot has happened since, with AMP gaining more exposure, playing in many other places—including Malacañang Palace as house band in April during the state dinner for US President Barack Obama.
Just last week we were back in Balete, where AMP is the resident band every first Monday of each month. The place was packed, as usual; we and our friends had to squeeze into an adjacent room—actually the office of Balete owner Tierry Garcia—to be able to at least hear the music and see some of AMP’s 18-piece personnel onstage.
The band was in the middle of a hot Latin number when we settled down. But we couldn’t stay put because the music’s swaying rhythm, punctuated by the blast of horns, moved us to dance.
At the sidelines, we bumped into former Tarlac Third District Rep. Hermie Aquino. Watching the show from outside, in the garden near the old balete tree, was theater director Freddie Santos. He was apparently enjoying the night, singing some of the lyrics to AMP’s instrumental version of Wild Cherry’s “Play That Funky Music”: “Till you die!”
AMP bandleader/conductor Mel Villena was in his element, annotating the repertoire with a backstory of each song, even describing the mood of the year when the tune became a hit. Sometimes all it took was to introduce the next number by its title, such as Steely Dan’s “Aja”—which was enough to send us “reeling in the years.”
Becca Godinez jams
A delightful surprise to every AMP gig at Balete happens when Villena invites guests among the audience to jam onstage. That night it was Becca Godinez, a pop singer in the ’80s now based in the US.
She got a kick, revealing her love of jazz by singing standards: “The More I See You,” “Orange-Colored Sky,” “Cry Me a River,” even a bossa nova classic, “O Pato.” And then she said she was in town to produce and act in a play about the Filipino-American immigrant experience, “Flipzoids,” set on July 17 at the Music Museum.
When the music resumed, AMP vocalist Skarlet and Villena were teasing the rest of the audience to sing along to Chicago’s “Beginnings” and Spiral Starecase’s “More Today Than Yesterday.” In the hands of lesser talents, those songs would’ve bored us to death. But with AMP, the experience felt like taking a shot of the elixir of life.
So, take a bow: Mike Guevarra (alto sax 1/flute); Joey de Guzman (alto sax 2/clarinet/flute); Tots Tolentino (tenor sax 1/flute); Panggo Sarreal (tenor sax 2/clarinet); Gilbert Francisco (baritone sax/clarinet/bass clarinet); Romy Francisco (trumpet 1); Nestor Gonzaga (trumpet 2); Richie Gonzaga (trumpet 3); George Abundo (trumpet 4); Ronnie Marqueses (trombone 1); Ricson M. Poonin (trombone 2); Vanessa Celestial (trombone 3); Romy San Jose (bass trombone); Joey Quirino (piano); Noel Santiago (guitar); Simon Tan (bass); Jun Austria (drums); and Uly Avante (percussions).
Villena’s children also jammed that night: Ria (piano); Mark (drums); and Mico (bass).
Balete@Kamias is at 175 Kamias Road Ext., Quezon City; tel. nos. 4343554 and 0917-7565708.
Sam Tsui in Manila
This should be interesting: YouTube discovery Sam Tsui performs with his collaborator, Kurt Hugo Schneider, on June 25 and 26 at the SMX Convention Center, Mall of Asia complex.
Tsui and Schneider are both American musicians; Tsui performs covers of pop hits which Schneider records on video and posts on YouTube.
One particular video, a mash-up of “Let It Go” from the Disney film “Frozen” and “Let Her Go” by British singer-songwriter Passenger, sounds great and
has garnered more than 12 million hits.
Tsui has also released an all-original album, “Make It Up,” last year and we’re looking forward to hearing some of the tracks at his SMX gig.
Janis Siegel on Monday
Reminder: Janis Siegel of Manhattan Transfer fame is performing on Monday, June 23, 8 p.m., at the grand ballroom of Solaire Resort & Casino.
She will be backed by top Filipino session musicians. Guests include The CompanY, Richard Merk and Emcy Corteza. It should be another interesting gig.
Call 5518779 or 0905-9286614.