Wednesday, February 21, 2007

CD Review: "Semalam" by Sean Ghazi

While I am aware that Sean Ghazi is an accomplished singer who has appeared in international stage shows, I have to admit that I have never heard him sing before. Being the culturally backwards hick that I am, I have also never seen him on stage before but have heard that he is also an accomplished actor. So when word of mouth reached me that he has put out a CD of his reinterpretation of Malaysian classic tunes, I decided that I would give it a try and see what all the fuss was about. From what I was told, the album sounded uniquely distinct compared to what was in the market right now in terms of local productions. That was a good enough reason for me to try it out since you never know if it could be a start for something better in the near future.

“Semalam”, the debut album by Sean Ghazi, tries to break new ground locally by bringing back old Malay favorites and repackage them in a fresh big band/swing orchestral arrangement. Backed by an international cast of collaborators and a live full orchestra recorded in Sydney, Sean Ghazi invites listeners to journey with him as we return to a bygone era with a fresh set of ears. Looking at the long list of contributors, one would not be faulted if they found themselves easily impressed by the distinguished international credentials gathered together for this debut album. For them to pitch in the production of what is essentially an album of untested genre in the local Malaysian market could very well be a testament to their belief in the artist’s great talent.

The CD opens confidently with the title track “Semalam” Sean Ghazi wrote himself with assistance from Izlyn Ramli. From the first note, audiences are made aware that this CD will be like no other that have come before recently. Sean also put his best foot forward out of the gate in this song by stamping the song with his unique crooner trademark. The only issue that I had with this song was that it was a bit weak if seen as a hook song to get casual listener to listen more to the CD. I firmly believe that the 1st song of ever CD can make or break the whole album and this song unfortunately wasn’t quite up to the job to pull people in.

On the other hand, the more up tempo “Ku Impikan Bintang” would have delivered as a hook song much better than the 1st song. The calypso flavored tune was quite jaunty and fairly engaging to listen to. It’s just one of those tunes that will stay with the listener long after the last refrains have faded. Sean’s delivery of the song does get a bit breathy at times when just singing it with just a solid tone would have done the job just as well or better.

In “Rambut Hitam, Matanya Galak”, listeners cannot be faulted if they feel instantly transported to bygone eras represented by the golden age of Malay films of Jalan Ampas. Sean’s solid delivery of this song helped sell it as an old fashion and fun song to listen to. I don’t really know how the original sounded like but I do really like the big band/swing reinterpretation done to this song. I did wish that the song ended on a more powerful sustained note which would have helped raised the level of intensity of the song a little bit.

“I Have Dreamed” solidly showcased what Sean Ghazi is well known for. I don’t know if it is just familiarity with this “King and I” standard or if he is just more comfortable singing in English but Sean’s vocal performance in this song is in a different league from the other songs preceding it. The strings section of the live orchestra beautifully accompanied Sean’s soaring voice leaving behind a simply magical performance.

The first of 3 P. Ramlee songs interpreted by Sean on this album, “Hujan Di Tengahari”, starts off slightly up tempo than the original from 1954. The good thing is that Sean didn’t try to sound like P. Ramlee but instead choose to deliver the song in his own unique way. It is so easy to over use runs to differentiate the two version but Sean has confidently maintain the balance without resorting to over embellishment. Unfortunately they totally destroyed the song by putting in snippets of “Singing In The Rain” that didn’t really make sense why they did it when the original melody was strong enough to stand on its own. The extraneous addition to a perfectly good song made this my least favorite song on the CD.

Fortunately the CD was quickly redeemed by the beautiful reinterpretation of “Jauh Jauh”. The song allowed Sean Ghazi to fully showcase his dulcet tones to its fullest and prove why it has made him a unique voice not heard before in these recent years. A fine balance of clear and breathy delivery help to make his performance a joy to listen to. The dreamlike quality of this piece stays long after the song has ended.

The choice of taking on Sudirman’s “Punch Card” next was slightly jarring considering it doesn’t really fit in time period of the other songs. I definitely missed the level of energy from this original in this remake. The leisure lounge sound in this reinterpretation made it sound too laid back when juxtaposed to the intensity of the lyrics. I think there are other Sudirman songs that would have made the transition better to fit into this collection. It was not as bad as having a separate song added to it’s melody but I must say that I’m not really feeling this reinterpretation.

“Getaran Jiwa” is one of the perennial favorites that people would try to tackle when they reinterpret P. Ramlee. After Sheila Majid’s jazz interpretation and KRU’s boyband version, it was refreshing to hear the song brought back as close to the original as it can. The simple orchestral arrangement further underscore the beauty of the song in it’s simplicity and memorable lyrics. The only minus point that I would call out here is how that a slightly stronger delivery from Sean would have helped to underscore the emotion content of the song more.

The last P. Ramlee song to be reinterpreted on this CD collection was “Dengar Ini Cerita” as told from the male point of view instead of the female point of view in the original. This is a cheeky song that I personally feel woks better in live performances rather than on recorded versions. Unlike the other songs on the album, modern references like Halle Berry and Ikea furniture peppered the new version of the lyrics. The inclusion of the spoken dialogue while fairly funny at first but does get tired after repeated listening unfortunately.

A second English language offering, “Somewhere My Love” from the film “Dr. Zhivago”, again seemed to show how much more competent Sean is when delivering something that he seems more familiar with, There seems to be more energy behind the vocals in this song compared to the other Malay numbers on the CD with the exception of a few. While I cannot fault the delivery of this song, I would have liked a less predictable arrangement for this song.

“Sabar Menanti” was definitely worth the wait for me. Of all the songs on this CD, I love this song the most. With the clear soaring sounds of the strings section giving wings to Sean Ghazi’s best vocal effort, this song remains the most memorable of 12 songs. Sean committed himself fully into the performance and that clearly shows in his confident delivery of it. It was nearly enough to erase the memory of the few clunkers on this CD.

Sean Ghazi’s debut album ends with the English version of the earlier “Ku Impikan Bintang”. While quite similar in melody and lyrical context, “Let’s Never Stop Falling In Love” seems to be a more superior version by virtue of a more confident vocal delivery. Sean is less breathy and more solid when singing this version compared to the Malay version.

Overall, “Semalam” by Sean Ghazi is a uniquely different offering not seen recently from the local music industry. While the selection of songs does seem to be a bit on the scattershot side in terms of quality, there were enough good ones on it to make you forgive the less than memorable ones. I also wished that they could have added a few lines of background information for each song included on the CD since quite a few of them may not be familiar to the younger target audience. Nevertheless I still feel that Sean Ghazi's debut album was all that word of mouth made it out to be and his vocals are definitely one of the more unique voices in the local music business today. Whether or not this album will be a commercial success, it bodes well as a 1st showcase of what we can expect from this artist in the future.


mjiahua :: tyne&wear said...

interesting review of sean ghazi's debut album. the number 'rambut hitam, matanya galak' or original title is 'rambut itam matanja galak' was a malay indonesian classis song by anneke gronloh - a dutch-indonesian singer. i think the song was recorded in early 1960s...and hope sean delivered it as good as anneke gronloh. interesting song!

Nickxandar said...

Mjiahua ... Anneke Gronloh was cited in CD song credits but I haven't had the chance to google -up who he was. I didn't know that the original song was an Indonesian song.

Since I never heard the original, I can't really say how well Sean did in comparision.

mjiahua :: tyne&wear said...

she is famous and evergreen singer in europe. the album that she recorded the song is quite rare and difficult to get in music store in malaysia. anneke gronloh was introduce by a friend who has unique taste of music from the mainstream...cheers!