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Dal niente

May 16, 2010

It was one of those days when I decided on a pre-determined state of mind-I was going to be sad. It’s hard to suddenly find yourself alone when after cessless travel and endless meetings that a lull in the schedule throws you off kilter. Maya is only coming sunday; My silverlit was bent out of shape- I have to get a new plane; the next interesting art installation will only be next week (when I won’t be in town); nobody of note is playing this weekend; and I can’t seem to get anybody out.

Called W – Tried to get myself invited to his new house in Bangsar, but he was gallivanting in god-knows-what hick town with his new mistress. Contacted J- but it’s awkward when you don’t treally know her well and she has a family. Thought of calling D – but the thought of picking him up in Cyberjaya put a halt to everything.  

So the plan is good – be sad.

Fumbling for anything because I was driving, I mistakenly insert quite possibly the only music I know from the last 20 years that never failed to stir my soul, strike the core of me. Ginger by Arcane. Running more than 12 minutes, Ginger features Simon Jeffes of Penguin Cafe Orchestra, Nigel Kennedy, Andy Sheppard, Alex Grifford & Nana Vasconcelos in a masterclass by world class jazz & classical musicians. Layering aural textures with bass, percussion and twin guitars in the background, Kennedy’s violins & Shepard’s saxophone comes in and goes en dehors, pitch perfect, dueling like swordfighters, building up to heart wrenching sforzandos. As always, I imagined myself playing.

David is probably one of the 3 best jazz pianists I personally know, the others being Michael Veerapan & Jeremy Monteiro, and amongst the 3, the best vocalist.  With his wife Junji they form probably the best supported jazz act in malaysia, for a time managing Top Room in Jalan Kia Peng, and playing in places like groove junction, alexis, delucca & no black tie, and the occasional stint abroad.

For some reason whenever I go see them play, and during intermission, we talk “business” – the CD he just produced for Junji with session players he flew in from Bangkok, the amp & speaker shop he partners on Tun Razak, the dream of pooling money for a dive joint/concert space(was that Junji’s dream?) – David, genius musician that he is, wants to be shown the money.

I am drawn to artists as friends because they are so unlike me. My circle of friends in my training or vocation as a physicist or economist or engineer are usually stoic and rational, but usually one-dimensional and boring. Perhaps I am like that, or is now conditioned to. Vicariously I live through these people who create and entertain, and its seedy undertones the smokey clubs & moody temperaments an element of danger, painting the dark of the night, but with the instruments they wield, be it a saxophone or a paint brush, there are moments that they are able to stir an emotion so pure that could not be described. Something of what a poet or a singer or a sculptor does that could not be achieved by a lawyer or an accountant or an economist.

And in its purest form is jazz, defined by what it does not – that it is a free-form, an improvisation, that a piece that is written should never be played the same way, whose players are responsible for the essence of, but not restricted to, to understand instinctively the feel of a moment of a note of a tune, of your surrounding musicians and of your audience.

Lime in a Cat

Not often you get to meet the proprietor of an establishment that you like, who sits you down, buys you a beer and relates a-dream-turned-reality, whose stories inspires and you’d come away motivated, daring you to fulfill yours. While she talked, I would start taking notice at the little things – the motif on the napkins, the way my welcome drink (lime juice of course) was presented, conscious of how space was distributed around the room, and wondering if she had a hand in all of this.  Engaging as the conversation was, it helped that she was a young thirtysomething, and pretty. 

I love to hear of how things came into being, and in this case a 10ft long solid sandalwood table, characteristically grooved with chainsaw markings, comes complete with a story of the effort it took to get it where it was, a rooftop lounge ( with a panaromic view of downtown Kuching, plus a glimpse of the namesake river.  The building it seems had been in her family possession, and left abandoned for many years, and efforts to get it occupied in various guises ran aground, until the idea of a hotel came up. And yet, it is also a background story on the bureaucratic circus hoops that she has to jump through to get the approvals & licences, a veritable minefield I am surely well accustomed to. 

The thing that I really like about Julie & her hotel is how well thought out it all is – it is staffed just right to maintain quality, as evidenced by their no.1 ranking on; it does not harbour any delusions of grandeur and over-reach to compete with the four. five-stars, and you can see it in its minimalistic decor and in its pricing; it is sure of itself as a product, that it is a boutique hotel with clean lines and modern touches, of strange bedroom layouts because of structural restrictions and creative ways to overcome that, which results in a kind of kooky charm; and that it is lime-themed, which works well garnishing windows & portals, its little cafe, its elevators, its laundry bags, its airport van, her mother’s pants (really!).  The icing is that they literally do own the lime plantation which supplies them the fresh fruits for the lime cocktails!  

The death knell to any entrepreneur is the lack of a solid plan at the start and the fortitude not to tinker about with half-baked ideas.  Julie has no such problem. Novice hotelier as she may be, she must possess high standards and maintain them, understand her niche and hold (or raise) its value, ultimately recoup her initial investment.