Local jazz band, Evolution Quartet, heal our “pandemic blues” with their latest album!


Pandemic blues. I feel it, and you feel it too. But I know something that can cure him, and I’d like to share it with you! My rhyming skills could use a little work, but pandemic blues is definitely in the air. The new guidelines are certainly more liberating, but being able to look back on our experiences with a sense of comfort is something we will still need time to master. But Singapore’s own jazz band, Evolution Quartettook on the challenge of documenting all of these thoughts and emotions in an evocative scrapbook they call “The Pandemic Blues”!

But Evolution Quartet is not without history. They chose to highlight the pandemic in their new project after all the experiences they had with it – the uncertainty, the gloom and the pervasive fear. Part of a music industry that thrives on live performances, Evolution Quartet began to feel the strain brought on by the evil virus.

Meet the pianist and courageous leader of Evolution Quartet, Cheryl Ann Spencer!

But that’s when their leader, Cheryl Ann Spencer, stepped in! She told us more about the situation and said, “I realized how much time we had wasted being too worried and preoccupied with the situation at the time. We still wanted to stay productive during the pandemic and keep blocking. I set a goal for the band to create the album ‘Pandemic Blues’ and record it together by September/October.

At a time when confidence has been shaken, Evolution Quartet have sought encouragement in even their smallest strides! They never stopped motivating and supporting each other, no matter how tough things got. They even gave a sold-out concert just two months ago at the Esplanade Recital Hall! The power of passion and dedication is unreal!

They knew the discouragement and confusion that hung in the air, resulting from the uncertainties caused by the pandemic. They also knew the power of music as a healing tool, as it did for them too. It became obvious for them to want to give people some comfort in the face of the situation through their music, and that too, music that reflects all the emotions we feel. Calling it an “aural diary” of stories and reflections, Evolution Quartet wants to offer us music that elicits relativity and strength.

Evolution Quartet: Tamago
Tamago, the drummer of Evolution Quartet, gets along (horrible pun, but very wanted)!

“Pandemic Blues is truly an accurate expression of people’s frustration at not being able to socialize freely like before, and many feel suffocated both literally and metaphorically. With the ultimate goal of touching the hearts of others, we were incredibly motivated to write these thought-provoking pieces. We believe in the power of music to break down language barriers,” explained Cheryl.

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 symbolizes the hope that, despite all that we are going through, we hope one day to be able to find it within us to learn the lessons we need to and move on.

The song order is meant to symbolize and emulate the growth journey we have been on since the onset of COVID-19. It’s about finding positivity rather than dwelling on the negative and embracing our experiences to learn and grow! Brilliant!

Evolution Quartet: Rit Xu
I listened to the whole album religiously, and I can say that without the sweet accompaniment of Rit Xu’s flute, this album simply wouldn’t be complete!

This album mixes different styles that will keep your head up and your mind at peace – from Bossanova and Modern Cha-Cha to Pentatonic Scale and Blues.

Another interesting thing that you have surely noticed is the title of some songs. Can we take a minute to enjoy the tracks “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 kind of sounds and instruments we will hear that will demonstrate and represent these ideas. And me to 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 deep, shivering bass solo from bassist Fabian, as if piecing together the pain that has hit us deep within.

You then hear the brilliant piano tunes in the middle of it all, as if they signify the small glimmer of hope that made us wish this nightmare was over. But then the tenor sax steals the show with the melody, as if voicing our complaints about the world’s closure, with the flute in melodic company. Then the choir begins, and you hear all the instruments unite. They represent all disgruntled Singaporeans! It’s us, but in the form of music! We sound pretty good.

But that’s what Pandemic Blues is all about! It’s all of us in symphony with each other, whether positive or negative. It also means we’ve all become more vocal about what’s going on and we’re in tune when we come together to talk about it and solve problems.

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

Social distancing is another interesting one! You first hear a rather slow, gypsy-inspired tune, which starts out slow but picks up speed with the rapid movement of the finger. It’s meant to mimic the quick footsteps of the ubiquitous social distancing officers! Their endless warnings to “stay one yard apart”, as if a broken recorder, constantly reminded us of the unfortunate chaos of our world even as we are at the depths of pleasure and enjoyment. (No shade for these officers! They are doing the right thing and helping us stop the spread of this horrible virus.)

This song is an ode to the precarious state of our world where people have to be paid to tell us to be responsible and to distance ourselves from each other to protect ourselves. It’s an ode to the times when we felt frustrated and suffocated by these rules and guidelines. Here’s to us and everything 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 in the mental place to move on. Listen to the pain and joy of the pandemic being demonstrated with the different techniques used. You will realize a constant shift in the flow, which beautifully represents our fluctuating emotions in this confusing time. Also, it provides that feeling of restlessness and being nervous.

“Ultimately, as we move on to subsequent songs on the album, listeners would realize a positive transition in the melody and rhythm being expressed. That’s also our primary goal – spreading positivity to everyone. world in the midst of the unprecedented pandemic,” Cheryl shared. It’s amazing.

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

Evolution Quartet: Pandemic Blues - album cover
The official artwork for “Pandemic Blues”. The colors on the dull background are a great way to represent our emerging strength in this difficult time.

Listen to them on Spotify and Apple Music and immerse yourself in the emotions they give you. Learn more about Evolution Quartet on their website and their Instagram and Facebook accounts! They hinted at new projects in the works – working on and recreating iconic cinematic tunes and maybe even working with an orchestra! Stay tuned!

Literally an aural diary, I’m sure this album will become a piece of history that we will revisit as we think back to what the pandemic has brought to our world; of course, chaos and panic. But above all, a determination and creativity like no other. Show your greatest support for Evolution Quartet!

Visuals courtesy of Evolution Quartet.

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Henry R. Wright