By Gideon Isidro
By Jireh Calo
AT AGE 17, Jireh Calo was the keyboardist of the band Mann Atti, and together with her eldest sister Nicole, the band became a grand finalist in the Boy Katindig Jazz Competition. She had also qualified for, and was the Best Performance Awardee, of the very competitive and prestigious Elements National Singing & Songwriting Camp. At the age of 19, she represented the Philippines at the 2014 World Youth Jazz Festival in Putrajaya, Malaysia on top of her first EP, Jireh.
There was no shortage in the genres she explored, describing her first EP as “a mix of organic jazz, fusion, and hip-hop, touched with electronic elements.” She has dabbled in singing, song writing, keyboard, and music arrangement.
She’s almost done with her baccalaureate degree in Contemporary Writing and Production at the Berklee College of Music and has released a new EP titled Solid Ground. With two years of formal training now under her belt, how does her second EP stack up?
“Flame” opens with some keyboard and Calo singing, “Walk with me, barefoot along this path…” A very apt intro, very cleverly written, I thought, as Calo is pictured in the EP as barefoot in the middle of a forest path, as if she’s inviting you on a musical journey.
Just the opening made me realize that Solid Ground has a fuller timbre compared to her first EP. Although the music sounded clean in the previous EP, it lacked timbre in the baritone and tenor ranges. This gives it a hollow sound. In Solid Ground, you can hear the warm sound of the piano complementing Calo’s full bodied voice; it’s as if you were drinking creamed dark roast coffee coupled with that oh-so-sweet-and-warm caramel. Then, again, maybe it’s just my preference, but I think music is best served “warm.”
The opening is then broken by the cacophony of the other accompanying instruments. And the music plays out from there.
The next song’s title — “Be Still” — is most likely taken from Psalm 46:10’s, “Be still and know that I am God.”
After the meditative vocalization and guitar intro, Calo breaks with “Your ways are far beyond my own,” taken from Isaiah 55:8. She follows with “So I seek your face and I hear your voice,” which can be attributed to Isaiah 55:6.
I personally interpret this song as a declaration of Jireh’s trust in God’s faithfulness, despite the hardships she has faced or will face in life. It is theologically rich and may be appreciated by people who are believers and also love jazz. It’s a good song to remind you of where to put your faith in during difficult times.
Although “Sonder” and “In the Silence” are two different songs, I would say these middle tracks are similar because they mostly contain instrumentals. People who are into singing might not appreciate these two that much, but lovers of the more improvisational flavors of jazz would like to listen to this.
In Calo’s Bandcamp page, she explains that, “Solid Ground is a collection of songs born from experiences that have taught me to stay true to my heart while staying grounded amidst the challenges and changes that come with that.” “Little Dreamer” is the crowning song for holding the Solid Ground concept. It talks about dreaming big, yet being a person of integrity while pursuing them.
“Joy” is the victory dance for the completion of dreams; alternatively, it could be a declaration of faith that dreams would be fulfilled. “Joy” is probably the most contemporary song among the six tracks, containing some rap sections and an R&B sound. However, compared to its counterpart “Drift” in the Jireh EP, this is one step down when it comes to R&B and one step up when it comes to jazz.
NEW HOPE FOR JAZZ
I think a reason why jazz is not as popular in the Philippines is because we have formulaic sounding singers, singing covers of overused songs again and again. People always crave for something new, and if you want people to keep listening to you, you need to churn out something fresh. Think of Michael Jackson, the Beatles, Madonna, and Lady Gaga. They were always relevant, because they reinvented themselves again and again and gave the world something new to enjoy.
Of course, we also like to listen to old music from time to time — but only if it’s really good music. Think about your friends who listen to Elvis, Metallica, or Beethoven. An old song done well, played excellently, and written very thoughtfully, is as refreshing as a new song. Today, we have a lot of artists who lack that sharpness in their fundamentals. It’s like some pretty face was hastily taught the bare bones of singing to sell music purely for profit.
Calo challenges the current music meta by being both sharp in her fundamentals, being able to create something new, and, in addition, having real soul in her music. I appreciate that her EP is not just a mishmash of totally unrelated songs, but a very conceptual album about faith, dreams, and integrity. It proves that she’s a real artist who puts soul into her art, and is not just in it for the money.
Artists like Calo give me hope that jazz music will continue through the next generations as living and thriving music, and not just performance art that people begrudgingly play in school functions.
If you’re a person who likes jazz, uplifting music with a good message, or just any kind of music done well, Jireh Calo’s Solid Ground is a for you. I give it a 4.5 out 5 stars.
Calo is currently raising funds for her last semesters in school. Her albums Jireh and Solid Ground are available on iTunes, Google Play, Amazon, Spotify and on Bandcamp at www.jirehcalo.bandcamp.com. Physical copies of her albums are available at events organized by TTT MVMT (www.facebook.com/tttmvmnt); the latest event is LOVE, on May 7, 9 p.m., at Tago Jazz Café, 14 Main Ave, Cubao, Quezon City. Calo will also sell CDs in Boston at shows and events.