Monday, February 23, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire's best original song

It seems we have finally passed that era when the Academy Awards would hand out Oscars for Best Original Song to such sweeping and sentimental ballads as CAN YOU FEEL THE LOVE TONIGHT, YOU MUST LOVE ME, and MY HEART WILL GO ON. In more recent years, the statuettes have been given to less predictable but more cut through pieces of music. Consider these: Eminem's LOSE YOURSELF (8 Mile), Jorge Drexler's AL OTRO LADO DEL RIO (Motorcycle Diaries), Melissa Etheridge's I NEED TO WAKE UP (An Inconvenient Truth), and most recently A.R. Rahman's JAI HO (Slumdog Millionaire). How refreshing.

While Rahman has become wildly popular in his native India, he has managed to stay relatively under the radar in the international scene, but breaking through in the 2001 flick LAGAAN (a lavish musical epic which was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars). He has since scored such diverse works as WARRIORS OF HEAVEN AND EARTH (a Mandarin language film), ELIZABETH: THE GOLDEN AGE, and the stage productions of BOMBAY DREAMS (as commissioned by Andrew Lloyd Weber), and THE LORD OF THE RINGS (with Finnish folk music band Varttina).

Rahman's success can perhaps be attributed to his wide range and versatility. Although he has a degree in Western classical music, he is exceptionally skilled in Carnatic and Hindustani music, and entertains a natural affection for rock, jazz and reggae. Through all these musical genres, he has developed a curiosity for the synthesizer, which he believes imbibes the perfect combination of music and technology--an interest Rahman pursued in SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE.

The movie's Oscar-winning song, JAI HO, is an inventive blend of Bollywood pop and European dance, making it both local and universal, with world music charm and mainstream appeal. Ironically, the tune was written for another movie but was rejected for that production. Fortunate for us, it received a second lease in life through SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE, and so now we can all bob our heads as the Indians do while we listen.

Here, from the Mozart of Madras A.R. Rahman, is JAI HO:

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Saturday, February 21, 2009

Whatever happened to Melinda Doolittle?

As things heat up on this year's American Idol, one wonders if any of the eventual finalists will be as stellar (or lackluster) as those who made it to the final 12 in earlier seasons. For me, among the most phenomenal vocalists discovered by the reality show is Melinda Doolittle--talentwise, if any of this year's contestants come near the 3rd placer of season 6, then we would have found a real gem. 

But what has happened to the former back-up singer, who despite being safe week after week on American Idol, was suddenly eliminated right before the finals? After bowing out to runner-up Blake Lewis and Idol winner Jordin Sparks, Doolittle began performing with Michael W. Smith on his concert tours, and then recorded her first single, My Funny Valentine--a piece she sang to much acclaim on the Idol show.

This month, however, Doolittle released her first allbum, COMING BACK TO YOU, which sold a modest 10,000 copies on its first week. True, during her stay on Idol, the artist was criticized for appealing to a more mature and niche audience compared to Jordin Sparks (who's debut CD sold 119,000 on its first week), but this in no way diminishes Doolittle's talent, which reaches new heights in the album. A compilation of tracks with a rich, soulful vibe, COMING BACK TO YOU fuses her bluesy Tennessee musical roots with her penchant for Motown, retro R&B, and Gospel (after all, she once sang back-ups for Michael McDonald, the Winans and for Kirk Franklin). The result is an album reminiscent of the projects of Tina Turner and Glady's Knight--but with an all-female back-up track plus updated instrumental arrangements.

Maybe her album will penetrate more the Adult Contemporary rather than the popular R&B charts, but hey--there's no denying this woman's a vocal force to reckon with. Check out below the single Melinda Doolittle is currently promoting, IT'S YOUR LOVE.

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Monday, February 2, 2009

Dianne Reeves in Manila, March 2

Four-time Grammy winner for best jazz vocal performance Dianne Reeves is set to perform live for Filipino music enthusiasts at the Rockwell Tent on Monday, March 2, 2009. The news has been confirmed by organizers of the Philippine International Jazz Festival (PIJF), which stages the annual event to promote jazz in all its forms to local audiences. The PIJF is on its 4th run this year.

Filipinos came to know Reeves best through her recording of BETTER DAYS in her 1987 self-titled album. The song remained in the playlist of many local radio stations, prompting every belter-wannabe to mimic the artist's indelible style in amateur singing stints. In truth, Reeves's career started much earlier, originally recording BETTER DAYS in her WELCOME TO MY LOVE album 1 full decade earlier (in my opinion, this was a better version), and before that, touring with Brazilian keyboardist, Sergio Mendes.

Lately, she has been prolific in recording music, winning Grammys for four of her albums since 2001, and earning the distinction of being the only singer to have won best jazz vocal performance in three consecutive recordings.

For a complete listing of the acts performing in the 4th Philippine International Jazz Festival, visit: www.pijazzfest.com

Meanwhile, do watch out for details on the upcoming shows in Manila of such artists as John Legend, Craig David, and Natalie Cole--all in March 2009.