Homegrown Jazz Band, Evolution Quartet, Cures Our ‘Pandemic Blues’ with Latest Album!

Pandemic blues. I feel it, and you feel it too. But I know something that can cure it, and I would love to share it with you! My rhyming skills might need some work, but pandemic blues are definitely in the air. The newest guidelines are certainly more liberating, but being able to look back upon our experiences with a sense of solace is something we’ll still need time to master. But Singapore’s very own Jazz band, Evolution Quartet, took up the challenge of documenting all these thoughts and emotions into an evocative album they call ‘Pandemic Blues’!

But Evolution Quartet doesn’t come without a story. They chose to highlight the pandemic in their newest project after all the experiences they’ve had with it – the uncertainty, gloominess, and omnipresent fear. Being a part of a music industry that thrives on live performances, Evolution Quartet started feeling the constraints brought about by the devilish virus. 

Evolution Quartet: Cheryl Ann Spencer
Meet Evolution Quartet’s pianist and brave leader, Cheryl Ann Spencer!

But that’s when their leader, Cheryl Ann Spencer, stepped up! She shared more with us about the situation and said, “I realised how much time we’ve wasted on being overly worried and concerned about the situation back then. We wanted to still remain productive during the pandemic and continue to jam. I set a goal for the band to create the album ‘Pandemic Blues’ and record it together by September/October.”.

During a time when confidence has shaken, Evolution Quartet sought encouragement from even their smallest bits of progress! They never stopped motivating each other and pressing on no matter how tough things got. They even held a sold-out concert just two months ago at the Esplanade Recital Hall! The power of passion and dedication is unreal! 

They knew the dejection and confusion that drifted in the air, arising from the uncertainties caused by the pandemic. They also knew the power of music as a healing tool, the way it was for them too. It became a no-brainer to them that they wanted to give people some solace about the situation through their music, and that too, music that reflects all the emotions that we’re feeling. Calling it an “aural diary” of stories and reflections, Evolution Quartet wants to bestow upon us music that sparks relatability and strength. 

Evolution Quartet: Tamago
Tamago, Evolution Quartet’s drummer, is hitting it off (horrible pun, but very much intended)!

“Pandemic Blues is truly an accurate expression of people’s frustration of not being able to socialise freely like before, and many feel suffocated both literally and metaphorically. With the end goal of touching the hearts of others, we were incredibly motivated to write out these reflective tunes. We believe in the power of music to break language barriers,” Cheryl shared.

This album consists of nine songs: Pandemic Blues, Social Distancing, Zingaro, Childhood, Our Journey, Fly with the Wind, Love Theme from “The Godfather”, Hope, and Moving On. The order of songs in an album is just as important as the album itself! So notice how the tracks start with ‘Pandemic Blues’ but end with ‘Moving On’. It symbolises the hope that regardless of all we experience, hopefully we will one day be able to find it in us to learn the lessons we must and move on.

The order of the songs is meant to symbolise and mimic the journey of growth we have embarked on since the start of COVID-19. It’s all about finding positivity rather than dwelling in the negatives and embracing our experiences to learn and grow! Brilliant!

Evolution Quartet: Rit Xu
I’ve listened to the whole album religiously, and I safely say that without the gentle accompaniment of the flute by Rit Xu, this album just wouldn’t be complete!

This album dabbles in various styles that will keep your head bopping and your mind at peace – from Bossanova and Modern Cha-Cha to Pentatonic Scale and Blues. 

Another interesting thing I’m sure you’ve noticed is the title of some songs. Can we take a minute just to appreciate the titles, ‘Pandemic Blues’ and ‘Social Distancing’? I couldn’t help but stop and wonder what these songs meant and how they came about. Cheryl kindly shared the type of sounds and instruments we will hear that will demonstrate and represent these ideas. And I have to share them with you.

Evolution Quartet: Fabien
Meet Fabian Lee, the man behind the deep bass solo you hear as soon as you embark on the journey that is this album!

Pandemic Blues begins with a shudderingly deep bass solo by bassist Fabian, as if reenacting the pain that has hit us deep within. 

You then hear the bright tunes of the piano in the midst of it all, as if signifying the tiny glimmer of hope that kept us wishing for this nightmare to end. But then, the tenor saxophone steals the spotlight with the melody, as if expressing our complaints about how the world is shutting down, with the flute in a melodic company. Then the chorus begins, and you hear all the instruments coming together. They all depict the disgruntled Singaporeans! That’s us, but in music form! We sound pretty good.

But that’s what Pandemic Blues basically is! It’s all of us in symphony with one another, whether positive or negative. It also signifies how we’ve all become more vocal about what’s going on, and how we’re in harmony as we come together to talk about them and solve problems. 

Evolution Quartet: Shawn Letts
One of the special collaborators on this album, Shawn Letts, becomes a part of this album with his humble saxophone.

Social Distancing is another interesting one! You first hear a rather slow, gypsy-inflected tune that starts slow but speeds up with the rapid movement of the finger. It’s meant to mimic the speedy footsteps of the omnipresent social distancing officers! Their never-ending warnings of “stay one metre apart”, as if a broken recorder, have constantly reminded us of our world’s unfortunate chaos even as we’re in the depths of fun and enjoyment. (No shade to these officers! They’re doing the right thing and helping us to curb the spread of this horrendous virus.) 

This song is an ode to the precarious state of our world where people need to be paid to have to tell us to be responsible and distance ourselves from one another to keep ourselves safe. It’s an ode to the times we’ve felt frustrated and suffocated by these rules and guidelines. Here’s to us and all we’ve been through. 

Evolution Quartet: Judy Tsai
Judy Tsai also joins the Evolution Quartet with her cello!

The rest of the songs further represent the journey we will take to finally be at the mental place to move on. Listen to the pain and joy of the pandemic be demonstrated with the various techniques used. You will realise a constant change in the flow, which beautifully represents our fluctuating emotions in this confusing time. Also, it delivers that sense of restlessness and being on edge.

“Ultimately, as we move on to the subsequent songs in the album, listeners would realise a positive transition in the tune and rhythm expressed. This is also our main goal – to spread positivity to everyone in the midst of the unprecedented pandemic,” Cheryl shared. That is incredible.

Cheryl Ann Spencer (pianist), Tamagoh (drummer), Rit Xu (flutist), and Fabian Lee (double bass) are the members of this magnificent band that has created such a memorable album. In fact, you will also get to hear other supremely talented composers and musicians, such as trumpeter Alex Sipiagin and tenor saxophonist Shawn Letts from the United States, who have also worked on the album as collaborators.

Evolution Quartet: Pandemic Blues - album cover
The official artwork for ‘Pandemic Blues’. The colours against the drab background are a beautiful way of representing our emerging strength in this challenging time.

Give them a listen on Spotify and Apple Music and immerse yourself in the emotions that they bring you. Learn more about Evolution Quartet on their website and their Instagram and Facebook accounts! They have hinted at new projects on the way – working on and recreating iconic cinematic tunes and maybe even working with an orchestra! Stay tuned!

Quite literally an aural diary, I’m sure this album will become a piece of history that we will revisit as we look back on what the pandemic has ensued in our world; sure, chaos and panic. But most importantly, determination and creativity like no other. Show your greatest support to Evolution Quartet!

Visuals courtesy of Evolution Quartet.

Baani Kaur

Aspiring to achieve great heights like every human in the world, but till then, enjoy the most dramatic and sarcastic person you will ever read from.

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