‘Heaven’ at blues society’s anniversary concert
Filipino blues godfathers, the Philippine Blues Society (PBS), marked its third founding anniversary with a recent concert at Roadhouse Manila Bay that saw each act in the six-band lineup giving album-quality performances that enthusiasts described as “blues heaven.”
PBS, created to foster local appreciation of the virtual mother of contemporary music genres, also used the occasion as a sendoff party for three of four Filipino blues acts participating in the 31st International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tennessee this month: Third Philippine Blues Competition winner The Glass Cherry Breakers, which, with the Brat Pack, will compete in the band category; Ian Lofamia and Ontario-based Joric Maglanque (a.k.a. Delta Slim) in the solo/duo act category; teenaged power trio Mean Jay, which takes part in the prestigious annual global meet’s Youth Showcase portion.
Setting the bar
The Gimmix, a young progressive jazz blues group led by second-generation guitarist Alvin Jarek Gonzales, with Rintintin/Kosmikskala’s Kristine Virtucio on guest vocals, set the bar high for the night with a nifty set of shuffles and ballads that showcased Virtucio’s powerful range and the young Gonzales’ amazing axe work.
Mean Jay—bassist Cariissa Ramos, drummer Zachary Zerrudo and 16-year old axe wiz Joko Reantaso—came off more polished and bluesy than when it placed a surprise fourth in the last PBS-sponsored Philippine Blues Competition, capping its set with revved-up takes on the Doors’ version of “Roadhouse Blues” and the Hendrix favorite, “Voodoo Child.”
Lofamia’s band, with Romblon-based expat guest reedsman Conrado Hinojosa in tow, was more than the usual ear candy for blues purists in the crowd. The latter’s contribution on sax and clarinet dovetailed perfectly with Lofamia’s excellent blues harp, Arvin Austria’s uncluttered guitar work and the solid rhythm lines of bassist Spencer Rymonte and drummer Ejae Mercado.
Local entertainment institution Blue Rats came in full force and showed everyone why after two decades it’s still the coolest blues-based group of rockers in town. Vocalists Clare Lapuz and Melinda Torre were soulful as ever, radiating power and grace, as ace guitarists Joey Puyat and Kedy Sanchez traded enthusiastic yet beautifully reined-in licks. Petite Roxy Modesto was big with her saxophone, as usual, while Tom Epperson’s harmonica solos were impeccable.
Memphis-bound Glass Cherry Breakers showed why they won the last Philippine Blues Competition, anchored on Maegan Aguilar’s powerful voice and Sammy Asuncion’s superb axe solos. As the guitarist-band leader promised after their PBC triumph, the band was now “a lot bluesier” for Memphis, having managed to turn some of Maegan’s rock angst into blues mojo.
Boyet Aquino was more laid-back on drums. So Louie Talan’s flawless bass lines were more easily heard. Nicki Cabardo on keyboards, meanwhile, was content with providing more canvas for Maegan and Sammy’s pretty pictures.
Capping the night was Bleu Rascals, the highly in-demand young trio of Paul Marney Leobrera on guitar, Oliver Salaysay on bass and Jay Garcia on drums. The obviously challenged Leobrera put on another virtuoso show with his trusty blood-stained Strat, doing several shuffles and ending with an extended cover of his favorite John Mayer piece, “Gravity.”
It was a perfect six for six that, if recorded, would have made a good live concert album. It was so good that PBS directors in the house—Eddieboy Santos, Allan Magturo, Peng Perez de Tagle—and Blues Asia Network’s Tom Colvin, as well as PBS events manager Dudee Alfonso, all looked like they had just had their cake and eaten it, too.
A beaming Colvin offered in explanation: “There’s something about putting really good bands together in a show—they push each other’s performances to a higher level. This was one of those rare nights.”
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