Simon Tan’s new album ‘Walotao’ helps shift local jazz scene into a higher gear

Who says that jazz is just improvisational jams? Bassist extraordinaire Simon Tan would beg to disagree.

On his latest album Walotao—which will be released on vinyl in February under his own BassHex Records with an assist from Eikon Records—Tan’s music, ideas, thoughts and feelings during the world’s longest lockdown period due to Covid-19 virus come to life.

“During the lockdown—like everyone else—I was going through a lot of things,” explained Tan during the listening session for the album test press at Good Vibrations Records in Cubao X. “I had thoughts about many things—from what was going on with the extra-judicial killings to anxiety from what the virus brought, how life is important, living in San Juan (there is a song of the same name), and more.”

He adds, “I am not a writer or even a speaker. So I communicated those ideas via what I do best—through music.”

Eight musicians, including Simon, worked on his album hence walo tao.

As good as Simon is as a musician, he needed some help from his friends and musicians he has performed with at one time or another with various jazz bands. Musicians who are some of our very best such as Isla Atinero (trombone), Joey de Guzman (alto sax and flute), Glenn Lucero (trumpet), Tots Tolentino (tenor sax), Ronald Tomas (baritone sax), Edwin Vergara (guitar), Rey Vinoya (drums), and Tan. 

“Some pronounce ‘Walatao’ like a Japanese word. But it is really ‘walo tao’ because there were eight musicians involved in this,” laughed Tan.

The painted album cover by Rica Billano, whether by intent or mere coincidence, seems to reflect the number in brush strokes—seven vertical strokes with one horizontal. Does the latter representing Tan?

The bassist smiled. “Maybe, maybe not. It really depends on one’s interpretation.”

There is no interpretation though when it comes to the music. Less than two weeks into 2024, one can arguably say that this album will go down as one of the best of the year.

Tan himself pronounced himself as happy with Walotao. “I think I did my best work here,” he admitted “Although there is more for me to learn about producing an album.”

The author (right) at a listening session for Walotao. Photo from Simon Tan’s Facebook page

The upcoming release is a clear indication that the local jazz scene is shifting into high gear. 

Recently, the Ayala Museum held several symposia and shows featuring Filipino jazz. And while Tago Jazz Café is the only full time jazz bar, there are others that also offer the same music one or two nights a week.

Walotao is the latest in a recent string of local jazz albums put out in physical format. Chasing the Sun by Rick Countryman, Sabu, and Simon Tan that was recorded live at the Tago Jazz Café, and the reissue of the excellent Affinity from Johnny Alegre are also both on vinyl. The Paolo Cortez Quartet put out Not By Sight on compact disc.

And soon after Tan’s album it is said that the band Kiss the Bride will see their debut album out on wax as well. Project Yazz is also in the pipeline. 

Those are enough reasons to get excited and buzzed about local jazz. Simon Tan’s Walotao is another huge reason. 

For orders, one may go to Eikon Records Philippines‘ Facebook page. 

The new lifestyle.