Image of the Week – 122 (Dead Elephants)

Photograph: Chaideer Mahyuddin/AFP/Getty Images

Two critically-endangered Sumatran elephants were found dead in Indonesia’s Aceh province with their tusks missing. These magnificent but critically endangered animals are usually killed by villagers who regard them as pests that destroy their plantations, or by poachers for their tusks.

All the others in this series of wildlife images are uplifting.

Tesla Manaf – a short review.

I’d arranged to chat with the latest Indonesian guitarist to join the MoonJune stable after his gig last night at the Rolling Stone Café in Jakarta’s enclave of the wealthy. But apart from giving high fives and hugs to his many friends, he was still so full of nervous energy that he needed a while to come down from the high he’d left us all in that he needed a period of calm.

The occasion was a showcase of his album due for international release on MoonJune Records in November, A Man’s Relationship With His Fragile Area, an album I’ve been listening to for a couple of months. To say that this is unlike anything else you’re likely to hear would be an understatement, yet there are echoes of which keep you engrossed and returning to.

Tesla’s label for his musings is neo-classical; I’d accept that. Jazz, it isn’t, although senior jazz guitarist Agam Hamzah was there, as was Chico Hindarto, the promoter of such gigs as Pat Metheny’s first in Jakarta back in 1995, and the MoonJune artists I Know You Well Miss Clara next month.

Tesla’s group was kept under a tight rein, with every key and instrument change choreographed and synched so tightly so that the first number from the album Chin Up was note and tempo perfect.

The group is a four piece with drums played by Desal, bass by Khrishna and a variety of woodwind instruments by Hulhul. His main instrument is the clarinet, but variety was added with a bamboo flute, a descant recorder (which I learnt to play way back in elementary school), and for discord, a tarompet pencak, which is a double-reed woodwind instrument from the Sunda (Bandung) area of West Java generally used to accompany the martial art form of pencak silat .

I noted the following about The Sweetest Horn: it opened with a whistleable marching band nursery melody played on descant recorder with a drum beat, joined by skittering drums, then guitar and clarinet playing as children do, until they combine to build an echo of an express train which gradually comes towards a halt: a guitar lead pastoral theme takes over, but with underlying menace from the bass.

Time passed, surprisingly fast, and for this listener it all came together with the final number, Where Are We Now? (which is not on the album): ah, I thought, I now understand it. Where it all made sense was that I felt that the group was given freedom to play, to stretch themselves, albeit with a continued measure of synchronicity.

Tesla has carved a very interesting musical path, and I really look forward to trailing behind to discover where his muse takes him next, especially if he takes time to let his innate curiosity relax and enjoy the view. After all, it’s not the destination which is of importance, but the journey itself.

Image of the Week – 121 (Behind Every Cloud)

There is something in this photo by friend Lora Hemy which captures my soul. She says it signals the end of summer, but as she lives in the far north of Scotland that is to be expected.

There is a little darkness within all of us: for some there is a lot.

For me, the notion that until the end when we gradually fade in the mists of time and memories there is always a ray of optimism. When you are down, the only way is up, so my struggles with this week’s computer collapse are soon going to be in the past. Yep, I remain an unashamed optimist.

The image also conveys the sense of being alone, a spiritual sense I revel in. I’m happy wandering alone in the clouds … and that’s not a sardonic comment on my height.

With a friend or two I can communicate, but in a crowd, I tend to sit back and observe. Mind you, I’m also more than happy to share in a good gig such as this one and I hope this one which is tomorrow.

That’s what Lora’s fine photo conveys to me.

How about you?

Image of the Week – 120 (Favourite Walks)

I love London and especially the parks. My favourite is Hampstead Heath.”

So says Sapperlotta to describe his/her photo in a series about favourite walks, most of which are in the UK.

I’ve written often about how difficult it is to walk in Jakarta, what with the lack of parks and, where they exist, broken sidewalks which are blocked with made further impassable by warungs, parked vehicles and static groups of folk texting each other.

I’ve also extolled London’s parks, and Hampstead Heath is a special one, and more. I’ve walked it over most of it, and spent many Saturday mornings on the adjacent Parliament Hill Fields as manager of my school’s football team.

I wish I could have written something similar here in Jakarta. After all, it’s proven statistically that walking is good for your health.               

Other photos in the series show scenes from walks in the countryside. And I’ve written about some of mine, including Indonesia, here.

Individual trees have significance, and many folk have favourites, be they for shelter, as a signpost or marker on a regular journey, or for the other creatures which benefit from their existence.

Here in Indonesia, the favourite tree, the one most like to be ‘protected’, is the banyan because it is considered sakti (sacred). It is featured on the country’s coat of arms and is meant to symbolize the unity of Indonesia – one country with many far-flung roots.
This post is dedicated to Sam, Son No.1, whose birthday is today.
With partner Anna and their two daughters Katherine and Rosa, he regularly plays on the Heath.

Image of the Week – 119 (Cute baby wotsit)

Picture: Kim Hunter / Caters News

A baby …… has made a full recovery after being found in the …… of her dead mother’s body. After noticing the animal at the side of the road, a quick thinking passerby decided to check if the poor creature was carrying any offspring. Incredibly, despite its mother being struck by a car, the teeny critter was found shivering inside its ….. , still suckling at its mother’s teat. After an urgent phone call from a passerby to the local wildlife helpline, voluntary animal carer, Kim Hunter, 48, came to the rescue of the baby …… and took it home.

So, what is it? Answers on a postcard, or on my FB page.

Tuslah – Again

If you’ve lived in Jakarta for a few years or visited often, you’ll understand why things are never quite as they appear.

As far as history will relate, Thursday August 21st 2014 was a very special day in Jakarta. It was the day that the narcissistic Lt.Gen.(ret. – forcibly) Prabowo Subianto lost his ‘case’ in the Constitutional Court alleging systemic electoral fraud which had given Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo the country’s presidency by a margin of some eight million votes (c.6%).

Coincidentally, it was exactly 16 years ago that Prabowo was dismissed from the army for “insubordination”, which many of us consider a minor offence compared to the allegations of his involvement in human rights abuses in Papua, East Timor and Jakarta in May ’98.

For the past two or three weeks, Prabowo and his corrupt crony politicians have demonstrated that they would not go quietly, promising mayhem in the streets by ‘disappointed’ supporters (who they couldn’t control) and further mayhem in Parliament where according to the parliamentary elections held in April the “permanent” Red and White coalition has a majority of seats.

Come the day, and the police, with army backup, mobilised some 27,000 troops, backed up with water cannon and tear gas, cordoned off the area in central Jakarta which houses the Court and many government departments. Facing them were paramilitary thugs, and those of the masses prepared to take to the streets for a packed lunch and a crisp banknote.

All this was carried live on TV and as we waited for the court’s announcement (which was 100% against Prabowo), it was natural that there was widespread paranoia throughout the city.

So was the Tuslah gig going to go ahead? After all, Goethe Haus, the venue, is well within the rampaging reach of an ugly mob.

I’d arranged to meet up with a few folk. One of them works for an American NGO and with his colleagues was advised to go home early.

‘Er Indoors, who spent much of the day watching events unfold, wasn’t too keen on letting Our Lad and I make trip up to town, but, hey, I’d already seen Tuslah at JavaJazz and I just had to see them again, as I think my review makes clear. Don’t worry, luv, I said, we’ll go up by train and thereby bypass any mayhem.

2pm. Water cannon and tear gas mayhem

We waited for nigh on an hour for our train, and arrived at Ya ‘Usual after our Australian friend with American bosses. He’d taken an ojek (motorcycle taxi) and got there in record time: the streets were empty … in Jakarta’s rush hour?  And so was Ya ‘Usual, the emptiest I’ve seen in it the more than a dozen years that I’ve been frequenting the place.

We strolled around the corner to Goethe Haus, met a couple more friends, sat in a row of seats and waited beyond the expected start time. Out came the MC and Riza Arshad who informed the reasonably sized audience that the group hadn’t done a sound check. When they’d arrived at Goethe Haus, the gates were shut, the regular German classes had been cancelled, and the presumption had been that the gig would be too.

Although they’d managed to get their gear on stage, it looked much like my office, with essential but extraneous bags and stuff not tidied away. Riza suggested to us that they could come back the following week – erm, yes, we thought – or they could play three numbers to get their sound right, and then have a break, and then play some more. That met with our approval.

And so to the first number which I think was called No Trains, written by Adra Karim who was playing his Hammond organ with its open back towards us so we could see its innards: wires, valves (?) and pedals.

Riza lead on the synth as a hard bop groove emerged and I tried to submerge myself into the music. First though, I had to brusquely castigate the four lasses in front of us who had immediately opened their pads and phones in order to let all in the hall and the sundry online know that they were among us.

I accepted a muttered “sorry’ and began to scribble notes as thoughts floated by. In deciphering them now, I realise that I can’t say what numbers were played because each one had passages which demanded my complete concentration.

Elfa Zulham on drums was in a world of his own, never flashy, head cocked to his right, eyes shut, rarely watching the others, yet in total synch with all that was happening elsewhere on the stage.

Sri Hanugara demonstrated once again that he can conjure magic from an acoustic piano, whether it’s thumping a beat, placing something (I know not what) on the strings so that the sound of a harpsichord drifts out, or dancing a truly astonishing Sundanese melody and bringing forth the trance-like passage of gamelan, his thin arms proving all powerful.

(Watch this video performance of Suwe Ora Jamu for an example of Aga’s playing.)

Adra Karim behind his Hammond demonstrated that there is untapped potential in the instrument. At times he was the absent bass player, at others he wheezed and spluttered, and at no time did he echo any of the many Hammond players who have gone before, be they ‘stars’ like Jimmy Smith, or British beat and blues players in the 60s.

Then there was Riza on the synth, his solos fluid, rising above and through the rhythmic underpinning of all. And when he could, he’d watch and obviously enjoy the others playing, because that’s where Tuslah are best: in the playground, on the swings, roundabouts and seesaws.

Three keyboards and a set of drums: each player going their own way, four differences, sometimes all at once, then perhaps Aga and Adra bouncing off each other, and at other moments tegether as one before going their separate ways again. At times I didn’t know who to watch or listen to, and what I’m attempting to describe here shouldn’t make sense, but it did. One of my notes says that “I want to hear that piece, Minor Importance by Riza, again but from a different angle.”

Tuslah’s music as I’ve attempted to describe it, may sound like organised chaos. Jazzuality says that they “combine the element of classic, jazz, blues, funk and rock …. through original compositions and new arrangements.”

Sorry guys, but I don’t see that Tuslah’s music can be categorised. Perhaps the wife of my Australian friend said it best after the show: “It’s like eating olives: an acquired taste, but great once you’ve got it.”

The use of a synth and Hammond organ harks back to the 60’s and 70’s, yet this music is obviously of the now, and I dare venture to say that it’s of the future. There can be no group which makes music like this.

(Tuslah’s first gig was at Jakarta’s Red & White Lounge in November 2013. Although the video quality is quite poor, you’ll get some idea of what I can only inadequately put in words from watching Proklamasi Part 1 and Part 2.)

When the group took their ‘pre-agreed’ break for a ‘soundcheck’, the MC bounced back on stage and had another conversation with the group, and asked about the group’s name. Tuslah is derived from two Dutch words, toetsen (keys) and slagwerk (drums). To laughter, Adra commented that otherwise they would have been called the Riza Arshad Quartet. Well, Riza may have been the architect of the group, but is happy to give free rein to his cohorts, to see where they’re going.

I later asked Adra if they had telepathic communication to combine so completely while retaining their very individual voices.

We’re really good friends,” he said.

On that note, I should end, but I still want more. Tuslah’s first album is being edited, and I really hope that it gets an international release because this is one Indonesian group which has the potential to captivate audiences at festivals the world over. Furthermore, they deserve a live DVD because their internal dynamics demand to be seen as well as listened to.
Sorry, but comments aren’t functional here.
However, they are on my FB page.

Video of the Week – 1 (Sparrows Will Sing)

A child breaks the ice and peers into the hidden depths
To try to untangle the whole of this unholy mess
Well I have no doubt they will figure it out one day

The ever wonderful Marianne Faithfull returns with her twentieth studio album, Give My Love to London.

The images reinforce the lyrics, hence I offer a replacement of my regular static Image of the Week.

Today is Indonesia’s Independence Day. We’ve lost our flag and it was too late to buy another one. But no matter, the day should not only celebrate the past, an event which took place 69 years ago.

Marianne, 67, sings about decadence, what we are witnessing all around us today, yet has hope, as I do, that humanity will stir and find the joy expressed in the simple things – much as young children do.

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