“The Sphynx” by Jonathon Ng uses a small ensemble to make big sounds reminiscent of the 1930s and 1940s. The album, released Jan. 13, 2020, is rich in history. Each song seems to exude a dancing feel, and that is part of what makes listeners tune in, and perhaps make a move or two of their own.
“The Sphynx” is a mix of original and tribute work. Most of it is Ng paying homage to a range of iconic artists, from Ray Charles to Hoagy Carmichael, and a few more between.
About Jonathon Ng
The sound and feel that Ng produces on “The Sphynx” are not on accident. He is a classically trained musician who has developed a musical acuity that comes from focused training. Ng plays violin, an instrument that sounds right at home on “The Sphynx.”
Aside from classical music, Ng has performed as part of Ellis Dyson & The Shambles, a swing-ragtime group. His showmanship has been honed from playing numerous rock clubs. Such clubs would have audiences packed into them. The full houses no doubt raised the performance bar for entertainers.
Ng is no stranger to the swing and gypsy jazz scenes. He has played clubs from the Cat’s Cradle in North Carolina to the Mercury Lounge in New York.
Among the notable musicians that Ng has performed with are Gordon Webster, Greg Ruby and a member of the Squirrel Nut Zippers, Stephane Whalen.
Ng has played as part of both dance and music festivals. The dance-orientation of his work is noticeable from the first note. There is a feel good quality to the work, and not merely a retro approach.
The sound and style of “The Sphynx” by Jonathon Ng
Overall, the EP is brief. In some respects, its length and organization make it feel like it is a teaser for more to come. And, perhaps that is true, but the work on “The Sphynx” is fully realized and engaging. Listeners will likely experience a disjointed feeling when they realize the recording has ended. The work brings with it an ambiance, or atmosphere that envelops listeners and thus, inspires repeated listens.
Ng is joined on the album by Albert Alva on tenor saxophone; Luca Pino on guitar; Chris Dawson on piano; Seth Ford-Young on upright bass and Josh Collazo on drums.
With an accomplished group of musicians, Ng sets about bringing 1930s style swing to life with a small group. Notice that there is no huge horn section to blare and potentially overwhelm the soundscape. There is one saxophone player. There is a tasteful, almost minimalist approach to jazz here that works.
“The Sphynx” is comprised of only six songs. The recording begins with the title track, which is an original by Ng. That is followed by “Maelstrom” by Chu Berry, and “Rockhouse pt. 1 & 2” by Ray Charles.
Ng seems to have a knack for creating songs that feel like the 1930s, yet manage to be meaningful in 2020. There is a movement to each song, and as a result, those who know cannot ignore Ng’s dance-related background.
The whiplash-inducing title track is as stylish as it is fast. From the first note of the upright bass, the song is up and running. Listeners can imagine The Charleston and a number of fast dances from another time being the movements for the song.
“Maelstrom” takes advantage of both the ensemble’s speed and cohesion, as well as the ability of each instrument to create a melancholic feel. The violin and bass work together to sound like a rhythmic washtub, almost. The sound is that authentic.
“Rockhouse pt. 1 & 2” is a bluesy, fast-shuffling number that catches audiences by surprise, but in the best way. The guitar and its subsequent showcase give the song texture and enhance the dynamics already in play with the bass and violin. This is one to be heard over and over.
“The Sphynx” is a triumph for Ng and a soon-to-be treasure for jazz fans.