Jonathan Ng: “The Sphynx” (2019) CD Review
Jonathan Ng is a jazz violinist and vocalist. On his new release, an EP titled The Sphynx, he focuses on the former, delivering excellent instrumental numbers that take us back to the 1930s and 1940s, music with a certain amount of swing and a tremendous amount of joy, music to get us moving and smiling. Joining him on this release are Albert Alva on tenor saxophone, Luca Pino on guitar, Chris Dawson on piano, Seth Ford-Young on upright bass, and Josh Collazo on drums.
Jonathan Ng opens the EP with its title track, “The Sphynx,” the only original composition on the disc, and a tune I love from the moment it begins. It has that delicious classic gypsy jazz sound, which is so wonderful. There is a feeling of glee, of cheerful abandon, to this sound, and the whole band is hopping here. How can you help but start shaking and moving to this music? By the way, on the back of the CD case next to the title of each song a number is listed. For example, for “The Sphynx,” it is “232BPM.” BPM indicates tempo, but it also means heart rate. And for me, here it seems to refer to both, for it is the heart that is most affected by this music, feeling the joy of the music, and pumping it out to all areas of our bodies.
We then get a delicious rendition of “Maelstrom,” a song by Leon “Chu” Berry And His Stompy Stevedores. As you might guess, there is some totally cool work on tenor saxophone here. I just want to immerse myself in this music, in its world, in its rhythm, and when I emerge find that the rest of the world has been changed, colored by this music too. In addition to plenty of good work on fiddle, this track features some really nice work on guitar. But again, it is the saxophone that is at the center of this one. That horn is like a character in a film or story; it is that distinct, that expressive. You know? And of course I dig that work on drums. That’s followed by Ray Charles’ “Rockhouse, Pts. 1 & 2,” a fun tune with more delicious sounds and vibes, along with a good groove. The sweet work on violin toward the end is like a hand guiding you onto the dance floor and pushing the rest of the world away. There is no need to be self-conscious, just let yourself go, and let the rhythm and the moment take over.
Chris Dawson on piano gets things going on a great rendition of Erskine Hawkins’ “Gin Mill Special,” a track with a playful, loose, casual vibe. Jonathan Ng’s work on violin has an inviting sound, and the bass keeps things pumping along. Again, it is a joy listening to this music. That is followed by “Embryo,” a tune by Illinois Jacquet And His Orchestra. This track is a lot of fun, with some delightful work on bass. My entire body feels like it’s smiling while this music plays. If you need a break from the insanity and ugliness of the country (and who doesn’t?), put this disc on. The EP concludes with an absolutely wonderful rendition of “Stardust,” featuring some gorgeous playing on violin. This song always works for me, and this version has a rhythm like a gentle river at night under a twinkling and loving sky, easing us along, perhaps toward a better world.
CD Track List
- The Sphynx
- Rockhouse, Pts. 1 & 2
- Gin Mill Special
The Sphynx was released on December 6, 2019.