WHO SEZ JAZZ IS DEAD IN SINGAPORE? TAJ’S NEW EP PROVES OTHERWISE

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Tim De Cotta (Bass/ Vocals), Audrey Tengkey (Piano, Keys and Synth) and Teo Jia Rong (Drums) make up TAJ, bringing forth an exciting new venture, and great contribution to Singapore’s contemporary jazz scene.

Now the above (from the Darker Than Wax press release) sums it up pretty well. 70s jazz fusion lovers (with emphasis on ‘fusion’) will dig TAJ’s debut EP – The Astral Journey – for its grooves, virtuosity and attitude. Followers of old school soul-R&B-funk will thrill to the authentic spirit behind songs like “Taj Yo’self” and “Old Town MOFO”, not to mention the dreamy title track that demonstrates so much emotional resonance, it’s hard not to fall in love with Audrey Tengkey’s fingers… and the sultry vocoder-ized vox on “Daydream”. Too much sexy. Something for everybody here! Get in!! Now!!!

But of course, we wanted to know more about the folk behind the awesome music and so I present to you… TAJ, in their own words…

How did the band get together?

We got together by chance actually. It was 2012 when Tim and Audrey went with the Singapore contingent to MIDEM in Cannes, and through rehearsals for this showcase Audrey and Tim got to know and like their musical styles in their respective bands. So when they came back Audrey invited Tim to an open jam session at LaSalle with other young musicians and students. It was a shed session to just have fun and also to try new things. Drummers, keyboardists, bassists and turntablists even. So JR was one of the drummers there and as the jam went on, it was clear that the chemistry between the 3 of us whenever we were on our instruments together was really strong! We didn’t just jam the songs per se but we moved and evolved them in a matter of minutes. So eventually, we started meeting more and more often, till it became just exclusive to the 3 of us, jamming covers and then eventually writing our own music. It happened very naturally and faster than usual, also because we became great friends. TAJ was born and on 1 Oct 2013, we released our single “The Astral Journey”.

What are your individual backgrounds in music?

JR was a classically trained percussionist with the Sembawang Wing Orchestra and did his diploma in LaSalle in that specialisation as well, but as he evolved he took more and more to the drum set. Exploring soul and funk music he learnt a lot from Erik Hargrove and from also his research and voracious appetite for new funk and soul music. And of course from there the rabbit hole leads you to fusion, neo-jazz and hip-hop. We all love Dilla too. Modern Drummers wise JR is more inspired by Benny Greb, Chris Dave, Mark Colenburg, Mark Guiliana , Zac Danziger, Dave weckl and the jazz greats. Other than just drumming he is also inspire by music by Taylor Eigsti, J Dilla, Tower of power, Earth Wind & Fire, Erykah badu and more.

Audrey was like JR, a classically trained pianist but in her stint in LaSalle College of the Arts, she changed her major and decided to pursue the Jazz side of things. Like JR, she always discovers new music and evolves her playing style but also growing up with RnB and jazz/fusion in Bandung, it was only inevitable she would be most comfortable in this vein of music.She is very inspired by Robert Glasper, Cory Henry, Mulgrew Miller, Caleb Sean, Taylor Eigsti, Bud Powell, and many other legendary jazz musicians.

Tim grew up with always liking hip-hop while being exposed to a lot of jazz, samba and 70s American folk-pop even in his household and eventually took to funk and soul and alternative RnB and Hip-Hop. Jamiroquai was a really big influence on his early playing and then he evolved with all the other music he was listening to, including a huge dosage of Soulquarian hip-hop and RnB with the likes of Common, D’angelo, The Roots, Erykah Badu, Mos Del, Musiq Soulchild, Jill Scott and Bilal. He never studied music though.

What is “The Astral Journey”?

First of all, it’s the name of our EP. It happens to follow the alphabets in TAJ, our band name. And it’s something our music aspires to; helping the listener take their journey in real while realising the journey they are also taking on all the other planes. The soul plane, the plane where their mind exists, the plane where perspective is subjective. The plane where time is subjective. The plane where our own consciousness is an illusion. It’s quite a trip while diving into our music, and we’ve even got feedback from our live shows where people get “hazy” and then suddenly come back to the realisation of where they are. Music takes us places in our minds and our souls and that in itself is what we decipher to be astral journeys. So we decided to clump them all together and the title came out as one huge journey into all these aspects of existence.

What is your musical philosophy?

We just be. We don’t think so much. We just write. We keep it real. We let it flow without restriction. If things work we develop them. If we don’t we move on but never disconcert it, for it may just be the wrong timing. We are really good friends, like family really, so we always put each other first, and the music comes from that connection and love we have for each other. We like to stay in tuned to each other and our creative sides, to focus on what currently inspires us. But generally we just like to sit down and play music among the three of us. Sometimes it’s hard practicing our existing repertoire to refine the songs we have as we are always writing new ones instead!

What is the music that influenced your style?

We are definitely always and will continue to be influenced by the music we grew up listening to (see above) but in the beginning we listened to a lot of Dilla as a group to closely see the wonders of his producing. We love The Robert Glasper Experiment, Snarky Puppy, Mr. Barrington and the like. Our concepts of the songs and their progressions coming from a lot of everything around us, the love we have for that “high” feeling when we really get into our music. Meaning and our style are derivatives of each other but neither is governed by the other. Sometimes we would find a style in which we want a song to fit into, and that would govern the meaning or subject of that song. Other times it’s the other way around. We play what we see, and we see things when we play. We are pretty impressionistic in our approach if you will. We are all rooted in similar musical starting points but we don’t rule out anything for e.g. 7dB has a post-rock feeling bridge, as we move away from the jazz ballad motif of the song, and then it moves into Drum and Bass.

How would you describe the music you make?

Every song is a journey. An exploration of concepts, normally expressed in subtle cues like the title of the song or the mood of the progression. We like to make music that makes you see things and ultimately takes you into your mind’s eye, while letting you explore the environment of your own personality. I think every listener will have a unique interpretation but the music we make somehow always facilitates this kind of introspection. Best listened when you have alone time or are in a contemplative, meditative state.

Any thoughts about the jazz scene in Singapore?

There is a scene. Not very well understood, especially by younger Singaporeans though, simply because it’s not on radio and they aren’t exposed to it. TAJ isn’t jazz either but of course there are elements of jazz in our music, but even more so there’s funk, soul, hip-hop even though we are instrumental. Jazz like any other genre has to keep evolving and it definitely is.

Is there enough acceptance for local jazz players here?

The more hard-hitting question would be, “Is there enough acceptance for local players here?” Like any other local act, it’s already hard enough to get people off the stereotype that local = inferior. We frankly think that this struggle is nothing new and of no use pondering over. We just make music true to us, and keep improving as musicians. People will resonate with honesty in any art. We like to keep it real that way.

Is Singapore a good place to make music?

Every country has it’s own challenges. As much as it is difficult getting original music loved and recognised here, it is just as hard to get half the pay an original band would get over here to hold a residency for a night. There are a lot more challenges but it all comes down to how much you want it. We think things are changing for the better in this region though.

If you could, what would you change about Singapore?

We are way too money-minded and uptight. Less money, more time for things other than just making money.

Why should anyone purchase your music?

Why shouldn’t they? It’s carefully curated musical expression that took time and sacrifice to produce. Coffee takes such artisanal expertise as well, maybe at times less but a cuppa joe these days cost about $5. What more a song. And that’s already $1.98. That’s a bargain if we ever saw one.

What are your plans to promote your EP?

We have been premiered on Moovmnt and Laid Back Radio and have been heavily pushing our social media game on Facebook, Twitter and Soundcloud and it’s slowly paying off. We are currently planning more shows and are confirming a show to release the physical copies (Vinyl etc) of this EP as an official launch in Singapore sometime in early April, on top of our launch online worldwide with Darker Than Wax on 30 Jan 2015. Gigs and promo on radio and online and in the press are in the pipelines. Generally initial reactions to the premier of the track “The Astral Journey” are heartening, so we can’t wait for more of the world to hear the rest of the EP!

More info – www.darkerthanwax.com

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