Vaudeville band Fazz doesn’t care if their burlesque-pop isn’t radio friendly

Musical-pop act Fazz, featuring (L-R) Yeoh, Farouq, Cho and Kevin, offers a sound rarely heard from Malaysian bands. Photos: The Star/RAYMOND OOI; Clothes: Zalora

Musical-pop act Fazz, featuring (L-R) Yeoh, Farouq, Cho and Kevin, offers a sound rarely heard from Malaysian bands. Photos: The Star/RAYMOND OOI; Clothes: Zalora

Going against the grain doesn’t get as much credit as it used to. But thankfully, in some spheres, appreciation still exists, even if that slice of the pie is diet-friendly.

Seriously, what would possess a band to record an album’s worth of music that straddles the divide between vaudeville and swing ... and expect to find an audience? Did someone forget to tell the outfit they’re in Malaysia, where, largely, generic R&B and adulterated rock proliferate?

Sure, it’s a path less travelled for a band daring to be different, but shockingly, for those who’ve caught the live act of Fazz (that’s “fast” and “jazz” rolled into one), nothing but plaudits seem to roll off their tongues.

“We look at it as a challenge. It’s nothing new, we admit, but it certainly seems unique here in Malaysia. We are aware there’s only a niche audience for this,” confessed the rose among the thorns in the band, keyboardist Grace Cho, recently.

She must be explicitly aware that the band’s eponymous debut, a six-song disc, is not about to make a dent on the charts any time soon. But that pretty much encapsulates the times we live in, doesn’t it? 

More often than not, good music is systematically ignored. It’s just the way of the world today. With talentless hacks given free reign to parade themselves and their bands on YouTube or social media, everyone is privy to their 15 seconds of stardom.

But procuring fame is something Fazz would baulk at. Sure, if it came, good and well, but this is a creative pursuit in every sense of the word. And lead singer Kevin Michael isn’t disillusioned about who is willing to fork out RM25 of their hard earned cash for a local album these days.

“I guess they’ll be working adults who are willing to spend on our music, but who knows.”

All together now: Musical pop outfit Fazz, comprising (from left) Yeoh, Kevin, Cho and Farouq, offers a sound rarely heard in bands here. 

The four-piece band is augmented by bassist/arranger Raja Farouq and drummer Jone Yeoh. The band has youth on its side with all of its members in their 20s, so if this musical excursion were to go awry, there’s enough time to shift gears and take the right turns.

The band’s genesis has roots in a — wait for it — band competition. Reality talent programmes might be the bane of the serious musician’s existence, but the contest Fazz took part in three years ago was at a night club in Petaling Jaya, Selangor, where only artistes worth their salt bring home the bacon.

Fazz didn’t win that night, but a second place finish certainly got the band noticed, particularly in front of a predominantly rock crowd. “No one is doing this. You only see this kind of music as part of stage productions, but rarely as a performance at a club or a live music venue,” chipped in Farouq.

While the titles of the songs on the album are succinct (four of six songs have single word titles), a rich tapestry of intricate meter and key changes underpins the deceptively simple music.

The album vaunts the jaunty That’s Life, the flirtatiously poppy Jealous, the infectiously hummable Money and the cabaret-esque Curfew, among others. Blame is the jewel in the crown, though. 

Musical pop

Anyone would be hard-pressed to put a finger on what has influenced this music, even the band, but Kevin, Farouq and Cho admit to having thrown bands like Earth, Wind & Fire, Dream Theatre and even Disney music into the band’s sonic stew.

Fazz is a collective, and not weighed down by band stereotypes – Kevin contributes the melodies and lyrics, Grace the chords and musical movements, Farouq the overall arrangement, while Yeoh drives the machine along with his swinging grooves and energy.

There’s a strong sense of accountability within the band, and Cho’s view typifies the belief of her bandmates: “The music-making process for us is very honest. It’s the main reason why I would never leave this band.”

Of course, there’s the little matter of conformity, but the foundation on which Fazz was built on has nothing to do with convention. “Our music has been described as jazz, but we’re not jazz ... if at all, we’re a simple form of that,” Farouq contended.

Fazzs debut album fuses, pop, swing and vaudeville music as a cohesive whole on a six-song disc.
Fazz's debut album fuses, pop, swing and vaudeville music as a cohesive whole on a six-song disc.

But the band knows that not falling in line with a genre or some form of branding stamped on their sound and style, takers will remain few and far between. He’s coined the term “musical pop”, which the troupe seems happy with.

What is clear to the quartet is the desire to do things the old-fashioned way – there are no rocket ships to stardom in sight. “We play at gigs and sell our CDs. That’s the way we know how, and that’s also the most honest way to do this,” asserted Yeoh.

“We realised we had to work at our craft first, and winning a few band competitions certainly gave us the confidence and belief in ourselves,” admitted Cho.

Finding the right environment and audience is the biggest challenge for the band, but it seems to have found its niche at music festivals. The band played a belter of a show at the 2013 edition of the Penang Island Jazz Festival and deservedly earned rave reviews.

The band also recently returned from a stint at the Haneda International Anime Music Festival in Tokyo, Japan, and took on a few more venues since it was already there.

“It was our first time performing outside Malaysia, so it was a whole new experience for us ... Tokyo is a world unto itself. The reception to our music was really good and we managed to sell some CDs, even,” Cho offered.

Festivals offer great exposure, but to keep the accounts properly balanced, the band still takes on club and pub gigs, because, after all, festival performances rarely break the bank. In fact, on most occasions, it doesn’t even contribute to the bottom line.

Going it alone has been tough, but Fazz is determined to work with its resources, and hopes that a community of like-minded musicians will eventually develop.

“We’ve been doing this ourselves, but with a lot of help. In fact, we’ve even set up our own company, Fazz Entertainment,” Farouq offered proudly.

Music tends to go through a 10-year cycle, and the way Farouq sees it, Fazz might just be sailing in with this sea change.

“Music today is not what it was a decade ago, so we want to show people what we can do and get people to expect it.”

Time and tide wait for no man, and the quartet is clued in to the need to strike while the iron is hot. The last check showed this unique quartet busy turning up the wick on a live stage close by. That’s an average day in the life of Fazz.

Fazz’s debut album is available from DrumAsia (016-974 8544). For details, visit their Facebook.