Tales They Told Me (2017)
01. Tales They Told Me
02. The March Bounce
04. Regression (Prelude)
06. A Sweeter Sound
07. Diggin' on You
08. Famous A
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Chok Kerong - organ, piano
Andrew Lim - guitar
Soh Wen Ming - drums
All compositions by Chok Kerong except #7 by Kenneth Edmonds and #8 by Andrew Lim
Release date: 28 July 2017
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Organist CHOK Kerong has pursued a determined path to become the deeply swinging player and leader we hear on his sophomore release, Tales They Told Me. Born in Singapore in 1983, Chok studied law at National University of Singapore before coming to New York for graduate studies at Manhattan School of Music and immersing himself in the jazz scene, studying with Jason Moran, Phil Markowitz and John Riley. On his 2011 debut Good Company he assembled a lineup with horns, but on Tales They Told Me he chooses the classic format of organ, guitar and drums, delving into the organ trio vernacular while foregrounding his own compelling voice as a soloist and composer.
For the past year, he’d been working in a trio setting with guitarist Andrew Lim and drummer Soh Wen Ming, creating a body of original music, modern in conception but straightforwardly organ-centric, solidly in the tradition. With Tales They Told Me comes the long-awaited recording debut of this inspired lineup. “We actually started playing together more than 15 years ago, and each of us has spent time in the U.S. at different stages," says Chok, “Wen Ming at Berklee, Andrew at Queens College and me at MSM. We’re all back home in Singapore now and this has allowed us to pick up from where we left off."
The energized, versatile playing of Lim is a major highlight. “Andrew holds a steadfast commitment to melody," Chok remarks, “and the weight that accompanies each note he plays is evidence of that. He’s really concerned with revealing and expressing the beauty in every phrase. Wen Ming, in addition to his great feel and sound, has a sharp instinct for interpreting form and augmenting the architecture of a tune in the moment in order to bring forth the meaning of the music. Playing with them is a joy because of the rapport between us. We’ve found common ground and are thriving in that ever-expanding space, which says a lot more than music alone ever could."
While Tales They Told Me is an unabashed organ date and excels in that regard, it’s also an absorbing look into the process of three closely linked players — a musical diary, you could say, of Chok and the group as a unit with shared musical and human values. The advanced post-bop sensibility of Good Company remains present in Chok’s playing, but his trio language is more steeped in the blues, grounded in groove. “I suppose my channeling of the blues comes from listening to the authorities on the subject: Jimmy Smith, Jimmy McGriff, Clark Terry, Ray Charles and others," he explains, “but also a lot of artists not immediately associated with straightahead jazz such as Stevie Wonder, Meshell Ndegeocello, Earth Wind & Fire and James Brown."
In the jazz sphere, adds Chok, “I’ve been influenced by Herbie Hancock, Mulgrew Miller, Oscar Peterson, Kenny Kirkland, Bill Evans, Erroll Garner, Larry Young, Art Tatum, Count Basie, Ray Charles, Michael Brecker, Joe Henderson, Bud Powell, Jelly Roll Morton, Bobby Broom, Sonny Rollins and Fats Waller. Pop music of the ’80s and ’90s was also part of the mix. The tunes on this album reflect connections I’ve made between all my influences, as well as some shifting priorities in the way I approach music. I wanted to simplify things a bit more, and focus on writing melodies and harmonies that were to the point — things I wanted to hear more as a music listener and fan."
Chok chose the title Tales They Told Me for its subtle evocation of folklore, in which he’s long had an interest. “Looking back I realize I gravitated toward Michael Jackson, Babyface, Whitney Houston, Chaka Khan, D’Angelo, Boyz II Men, Maxwell — and when I began to learn about Herbie, McCoy, Bill Evans and Bud Powell, it felt like my world was opening up, not just in terms of jazz, but of approaching all music more authentically. I’ve found there’s a quality that binds all these musics together, whether you’d call it soul or some other word. It got me thinking about how music can evolve into different forms from one generation to the next and still resonate the same way if the quality that speaks of the human experience is still there. As Mulgrew Miller once said during an interview, ‘The folk element is intact.’ So while there are different styles on this record, I’m hoping that the listener will conclude, like I did, that they are all, in a way, the same thing."
There’s a historically informed sensibility at play on Tales They Told Me, not least in what Chok calls the “Baby Dodds in slow motion" intersecting rhythms of “The March Bounce." From the roaring Charles Earland-esque swing of the TLC hit “Diggin’ on You," we get a clear view of Chok’s ability to unite disparate influences across styles and time periods, his deepest musical convictions as a guide. Along those lines, he unfurls a classically inspired theme on “Regression," switching to acoustic piano for a solo intro before developing the contrapuntal patterns with the full trio. With “A Sweeter Sound," however, Chok seeks just that, a less busy aesthetic, “more direct and fuss-free" in harmony and melody as Chok puts it. “Famous A," Lim’s tune, sets off in a striking bitonal direction and closes the set with what could be heard as a band mission statement (Lim’s initial inspiration came from Mingus Ah Um). “In a way, this tune sums up what we’re really about as a trio," Chok says. “The blues informs everything that we do."