Jo Hamilton

Venue: Esplanade Recital Studio, Esplanade, Singapore
Date: 8th August 2012
Promoter: Greenhorn Productions
Review by: Joanne L.
Special Thanks: SC and the Greenhorn Productions team

That evening, about 140 people immersed themselves in the ethereal sounds of Jo Hamilton and her air piano. However, the glaring presence of empty seats did not deter Jo and producer, Jon Cotton, from putting their best foot forward in an engaging set.

In her sweeping dress and long tresses, Jo channeled a demure boho-chic lead singer of an indie band. But as she opens her set, this impression is quickly erased as she played her music, bewitched with multiple layers of other-worldly sounds. The only thing that I had guessed right on first impression was that this was not mainstream music.  The quirk in Jo’s music can be attributed to two things: one, a style that is clearly influenced by the cultures and environments she has experienced and two, the sounds of the air piano.

Taking inspiration from her environment, Jo cleverly incorporates sounds like the calls of the Tui bird (a bird native to New Zealand, where she had spent some time) and ethnic musical instruments into her work. A particularly stunning piece was Mekong Song, which was inspired by Jo’s boat ride to Tonle Sap. The gentle coaxing of her voice, sounds of traditional percussions and minimalist lyrics painted a picture so vivid that one could imagine every fishing boat in high-res detail and experience the quiet peace she very successfully conveyed.

The air piano or ‘the plank’ as she describes it, was used in a couple of numbers in the set, but first an introduction is in order. This techy instrument is similar in concept to the theremin, where a sound is produced when the sensors detect an interference above the unit. Being one of the first few artistes to play this instrument, Jo convinced me that it was sorcery as she hovered her hands over the instrument as if levitating an object and flitting her hands in and out of range to create unique futuristic sounds. However, the use of the air piano was limited through the set and could have been given more prominence as a feature instrument.

The setlist starts off with a bang but very quickly the DNA of her dramatic style shows, where she starts out with soft lullabyesque wispy vocals, escalating into an earth shattering climax of bold vocals and ending crisply and as quietly as it had come.

Although the predictability had put a damper on the show, Jo compensates by delivering every emotive piece in such a polished and genuine manner that the audience can immediately relate to. My personal favourite was Hawthorn Flower, a song Jo imagined someone would sing if he were banished from his homeland, Scotland. In this song she evoked a poignant picture of painful separation and hope for what laid ahead.

As Jo navigated through her setlist, she took us on a colourful journey of both exotic places and emotion. This was certainly different from our staple music and perhaps, just perhaps, the poor turnout spoke for conservative tastes.