Getting to Batavia, Jakarta’s ‘Old City’ (Kota Tua) is easy if, like me, you have ready access to a commuter train line. Getting from Kota station to Fatihillah Square, where the first annual Kota Jazz Festival was to be held last Saturday, is not. Pedestrian access is limited to avoiding and being avoided by, the traffic.
However, Our Lad and I got to the Square around midday and this is what we saw. The frontage of the former Dutch Governor’s Office, now the National History Museum, covered with transparent plastic sheeting, was the backcloth to the stage.
We made our way to there and, lo, our Yogya friend Adi Wijaya, keyboardist with IKYWMC, was playing I knew not what with Triology which I presumed were a new group because they were reading from charts. Adi’s groove lead into the familiar jazz standard Bobby Timmons’ Moaning. This was followed by Bilbo From Shire written by Arnando who proved to be a fluent melodic guitarist.
Two numbers? Our Lad and I presumed that we had caught the tail end of Adi’s set, but meeting and greeting him when he came off stage we caught up on festival affairs. Adi told us that the planned schedule was badly out of kilter and that bands had shortened sets of, probably, 15 minutes. Because it had rained earlier, setting up two stages was not possible; in fact the other stage was not available until the evening. Thankfully, although it was to prove an encumbrance, my JakJazz ’95 umbrella was not brought into use.
While we were chatting, an all-women group took the stage and provided some excellent funk. With Dyah Sekar on keyboards, Adisty Zulkarnaen on drums and Arnie Christanti providing extremely heavy bass lines, the group from Bandung are collectively known as Jazzy Juice. The liberties they took with Dave Brubeck’s Take Five (actually written by saxophonist Paul Desmond) was astounding, and if/when they have an album, it’s a must have. Adi told us that Adisty is married to the simakDialog bassist Rudy Zulkarnaen who we were to hear later.
Meanwhile, we wandered around the Square in which the ‘normal’ daily activities were to be observed. These included crocodiles of school children on assignment to pester westerners for autographs and/or selfies. Being selfish, I refused all but one request which was to fill in a form: I wrote ‘rahasia‘ (secret) on each line and suggested that they pester the various cartoon characters posing for donations.
Being on foot for a day is exhausting so we used Cafe Batavia as a resting place. And it was there that I met Elfa Zulham, most recently chatted to at Ngayogjazz where Sri ‘Aga’ Hanuraga and I shared our love of Errol Garner’s playing, which Aga then demonstrated. I asked Zul to pass on a request to Aga for some more, and – how can I adequately express my appreciation? – Aga did with the coda to a number whose title escapes me. What was to follow though was even more sublimely outstanding as Aga improvised for some 10? 15? minutes on a tune called Invitation. He was lost in it and when he had run its course I sensed that the seated audience wanted to give him a standing ovation. I did, but then I had stood throughout the set.
Music to die for?
Next up for me was Ligro, most recently seen at a JakJazz gig in the must-be-seen-at Black Cat Café. Once again they proved to youngsters that it takes mutual empathy gained through a decade and more playing together to offer the controlled chaos, on the edge ‘speed metal’.
But they can also melt hearts, as they proved by also playing this. (video)
Chatting with bassist Adi Darmawan back stage afterwards, he mentioned that groups were limited to two numbers due to the scheduling problems. So we listened to two numbers from a Weather Report ‘tribute’ band who first made light work of Heavy Weather before playing an Indonesian ethno version of an unknown to me title.
They were followed by a traditional piano-bass-drums trio playing Cuban music. They proved like several other groups who I didn’t stay long for, that there has been a welcome growth in technically proficient musicians with a wide knowledge of what’s gone before in the jazz genre. We may hope that it won’t be too long before they have their own individual ‘voices’ and become true jazz musicians, able to surprise us with their inner soulfulness and originality.
As evening darkened the Square, next up for me was Dwiki Darmawan & Krakatau-Ethno, the ethno being Sundanese percussion. Dwiki was the co-ordinator of Kota Tua Jazz and had barely a week or so to get it together. In a short speech to the crowd in front of the stage he said something to the effect of how happy he was to play for Jakarta’s indigenous Betawi.
I suspect that those he could see were there for the jazz and would not have been primarily local folk. They were further back in the square: young lovers enjoying the freedom of a cheap Saturday night out.
The kaki lima (meals on wheels vendors) were ready to meet snacking needs. Plastic squares, each large enough to seat an extended family – and they’re really large in Indonesia, were laid on the paving slabs leaving very thin paths between each. With the lack of lighting, getting through the throngs to get up close and personal with the bands was to prove arduous.
“Whoops. sorry … move your feet ibu ….”
Hence the long distance photos taken on my cheap camera.
Dwiki formed Krakatau back in the late 80’s with Sundanese percussion, and Riza Arshad with guitarist friend Tohpati formed simakDialog in the early ’90’s. By the time of their third release, Trance Mission, in 2002 Riza had replaced the drummer with Sundanese percussionists, a formation kept until now.
Tohpati had a prior TV appearance scheduled, and a third percussionist, Erlan Suwardana, was also absent, so we were treated to a quartet with Rudy Zulkarnaen on bass, Endang Ramdan and Cuci Kurnia playing the kendang, Cuci having to discard his usual ‘assorted metallic toys’. Thus, Riza was able to stretch his playing on the Korg, provided by one of the festival sponsors, playing lead melodies where previously Tohpati would have provided his jaw dropping sounds. I liked the more intimate set, with the ‘conversation’ between the two percussionists being a particular crowd pleaser.
(Note: simakDialog have a live CD and DVD, Live at Orion (Baltimore) scheduled for release on MoonJune early next year. Anyone who’s seen the full band will really appreciate the album: Tohpati’s in a world no other guitarist has been to.)
Tesla Manaf was next up on the stage to the left, now, finally, readied for performances. Although his set was familiar, having been to two full gigs and part of a third within the past few months, I was surprised how much better it sounded in the open in front of a packed crowd rather than in the confines of a small club. Particularly outstanding for me was Hul-hul the woodwind player, pulling some surprising sounds from the tarompet, swiftly followed by similar growls from his clarinet.
Next up, on the stage in front of the museum, was the Dewa Budjana’s regular band with outstanding bass player Shadu Rasjidi, Saat Syah on suling, and drummer Yandi, still only 18 years old. They were joined by Sri Hanuraga on keyboards. By this time it was impossible to get up close and personal, and with ‘Er Indoors and a few friends having joined us, we were having our evening meals in Café Batavia. Standing in front, I felt that Aga’s presence helped create a ‘meatier’ sound than that heard two or three times in the past year.
By now, the length of the day was exhausting us, and refreshments or rest was required. The convenience store in the Square supplied ice creams and they did have beer, but that was warm because the refridgerated section containing it was broken. Energies were reserved for one last push gentle squeeze through the throng for the last act.
And a formidable act it was: Dwiki Darmawan’s Peace Orchestra with guests Beledo, a Uruguayan guitarist based in New York, Australian Dale Barlow, who plays most wind instruments, and percussionist Steve Thornton. All three have extensive résumés having played and recorded with A-list jazz artists. Beledo has played with MoonJune artists Dewa Budjana and simakDialog, and appears on sD’s Live from Orion. Dale told me that he’d spent some time in London playing at Ronnie Scott’s club, a conversation I hope we can resume some time..
I knew from Arlo Hennings, MoonJune’s representative in Indonesia, that the Peace Orchestra had spent the two previous days rehearsing, so they were tight. It says something about such consummate musicians that the bassist who’d rehearsed with them didn’t turn up and Adi Darmawan from Ligro et al stepped in at short notice and was immediately at home.
What we heard was strangely beautiful. There were sinuous sax and flute lines, fluid, lithe guitar phrasings, a driving rhythm section playing in 3-4-5/4 time, and an outstanding vocalist in Ivan Nestorman. He lead singalongs of, if I’m correct, Flores whaling boat songs, and a good time was had by one and all. (In this video he’s singing and playing with Agam Hamzah and Adi Darmawan, and Saat Syah, the flautist from Dewa Budjana’s Band.)
When we left, an hour or two’s chatting later, the Square and surrounding streets were still crowded.
It had been a good day for us all, so all praise to Dwiki D. for nurturing the idea for eight years, and then being given eight days to pull it all together with the co-ordinating help of Leonardo Pavkovic who has given international exposure to many of the artists appearing.
Arlo Hennings, Tesla Manaf, Adi Wijaya, Your Scribe
An album of larger size images is here.