For me, it was case of hang the expense. I've enthused, rhapsodised even, about Pat Metheny before in this blog and, hey, he was coming to town for second time to perform at the Java Jazz Festival.
He'd last been here on October 22nd 1995 when he came with his group as part of the We Live Here tour. Only three expats were at his gig in the Tennis Stadium at Senayan that evening, and two of us, along with 'Er Indoors, who'd also been at the previous gig, and Our Kid, went to the vast concrete expanse of the Kemayoran Fairground on Saturday evening.
The 'fair' in that name refers to commercialism rather than swings and roundabouts, and that all started at the security gates where bags were searched for illicit food and drinks which were confiscated – except mine weren't, thankfully. In order to eat, punters were expected to purchase a Bank Negara Indonesia (BNI) plastic card for a non-redeemable Rp.20,000 (c.$2.50). This could be topped up for various amounts ending in four zeros and then used to pay for a range of fast foods, mainly hot dogs and kebabs, and Starbucks sludges. To be fair, cash could be used to buy Tebs, a new refreshing drink of tea and soda, and, thankfully, cans of Carlsberg.
My companions who had their handphones switched on began to receive SMS'd adverts from the various vendors, including Google which is currently in breach of EU privacy laws with its invasive trawling of our online activities. We were there for the music and chat, not as a valuable resource of data ripe for commercial exploitation. Mind you, judging by the number of young folk eager to be photographed in front of a well-let stage with a backdrop of an ad for Djarum Super Mild kretek cigarettes, some were oblivious to their exposure as virtual celebrities, mere cogs in a machine which will dispose of them as casually as they drop litter.
Still, we weren't there to be seen but to listen. With a packed and synchronised schedule spread over 17 stages and halls, it was a matter of careful selection. I'd have liked to seen simakDialog again, especially as a new album will be released internationally by MoonJune Records later this year. Unfortunately Riza Arshad, the leader on keyboards who was also at the previous Metheny gig, was performing at the same time as Metheny who I just had to see again – and not just because we'd paid extra to get into his performance.
So we started with Bobby McFerrin, perhaps most famous for his hit Don't Worry, Be Happy. I know of him as a totally unique vocal improviser, with a four-octave range, circular breath control and an ability to engage with his audience whether as a solo performer or vocalising with the likes of jazz piano maestro Chick Corea, among many others. Advance publicity suggested that he would 'Indonesianise' his music, and so it proved.
But first, as the lights dimmed, a round of applause sounded out from the audience seated in front of the stage Why anyone thinks that a recorded message, containing public service announcements about where the emergency exits, security and medical staff can be found, needs appreciative feedback is beyond me.
Then he entered, sat down on a seat front centre stage, took a microphone in his right hand, began gently beating his chest with the left, and started a lengthy solo improvisation. As a demonstration of his technique, lasting about ten minutes, it failed to grab my complete attention, although two large screens high at each side of the stage allowed an immediacy and growing appreciation.
I was waiting for the promised Bobby Meets Indonesia! selection. This brought the audience to life, not least as he demonstrated total respect and empathy first with the suling (bamboo flute) player as they played two familiar Sundanese tunes. This was followed by a kendang (Sundanese drums) played, as the screen clearly showed, both melodically and rhythmically with both hands and a foot. What impressed me was that both local musicians could be observed in close up, trance-like as they musically communed with the master. It was totally absorbing music for us too.
The promised gamelan was either a backing tape, which I somehow doubt, or provided as part of his vocalese. This was visualised by a woman dancer whose mask reminded me of wayang golek, the wooden puppets operated with rods, yet she moved with the grace of a Central Javanese court dancer as they seemingly flirted with each other.
That they embraced each other following the respectful bows at the end said much about their rapport, and Bobby's respect for Indonesian music.
We stayed for one more number, anxious not to to miss Metheny's set, and I'm glad we did because the maestro produced a flawless version of the much recorded blues song Sweet Home Chicago (video). This was a driving, bass driven masterpiece and if I'd had my eyes shut, I could almost visualise Taj Mahal playing it with the Pointer sisters. McFerrin was just perfect by himself though.
Anyone fortunate to be able to get to one of his many gigs worldwide this year is in for a rare treat: the man is truly a unique and gifted entertainer.
We left not wishing to miss Pat Metheny, so we missed this astonishing session with a kecak troupe!
We crossed the crowded concourse, queued up to go through security and have our passes scrutinised and torn, and found some floor space at the back of the crowd but, unfortunately towards the left rather than in the centre between the stacks of speakers. But no matter – and definitely of no importance whatsoever for the dumb lass who spent the next hour engrossed in the contents of her 'smart' phone!
After the usual public service announcements and the subsequent read through of the extensive list of authorised sponsors, Pat Metheny came on and sat at the front centre stage. Oh, I thought, we're in for another solo set.
He played his 42 string Pikasso Guitar, a custom made harp guitar created by Canadian luthier Linda Manzer. This allowed him to stretch his acoustic playing and to sound reminiscent of his 1977 recording Watercolours and the second track Icefire, a mournful electric sings at its center, ever shielded by an unrequited embrace of acoustics. Varied rhythms and bold chord changes animate its otherwise stagnant beauty.
The screens showing every detail of what was billed as the Pat Metheny Project allowed total immersion. As his dreamlike effort came to a close two musicians, neither of whom I recognised, took their places, one behind a fairly standard drum kit and the other taking hold of an upright acoustic bass. Having been transported before by the Pat Metheny Group (PNG), we had been anticipating more of the same, but no matter.
The more the set went on, the more I was taken with Ben Williams, who is still only 27. He won the prestigious Thelonious Monk Institute competition for bass players in 2009, and the NY Times had this to say about his playing at a gig in October of that year: By definition the bass player is a pivotal figure in jazz, a steward of tonality as well as tempo. Determining a good one can require close listening: that quality reveals itself in the cohesion of the band as well as in the handling of line and phrase. All of this was accounted for [by] Mr. Williams.
Initially, he appeared to be playing according to an score, but he loosened up to become vastly more than a supporter of the leader. His solo spots were fluid, integral yet had a distinctive voice. He's destined for a career which could push the boundaries of his craft.
Friend John was particularly taken with the drummer, Jamire Williams, no relation to Ben as far as I know, who leads a band called Erimaj (his name spelled backwards as you can surely tell). Of the band, the NY Times had this to say: [Erimaj] features a lot of information being knocked around. There are rising and falling vamps and solos; a bit of rock and pastoral-sounding, post-Pat Metheny guitar harmony ….. from Mr. Williams, fluid narrative improvising, as well as beats like fragmented hip-hop.
Ah, "post-Pat Metheny", but this was the present. The set comprised largely familiar tunes from the vast Metheny back catalogue: Into The Dream, So May It Secretly Begin, Bright Size Life, Broadway Blues, James, Always and Forever, and Question and Answer. This group trio reminded me less of his recorded trio works than of that exceptional Swedish piano trio E.S.T., lead by the late Esbjörn Svensson, a group much admired by Metheny who played with them on their 2005 album Live – Schleswig-Holstein Chamber Orchestra. What E.S.T. had, and we were listening to, was a unique chemistry and complex musical ideas presented in an accessible manner.
Time flew, as the best gigs do, but the best was reserved for last when Metheny (finally) let rip with a scorching synth-guitar driven number (Question and Answer?) which reminded us that his larger PMG had more orgasmic power than the loudest rock band. But this was just a trio, with acoustic drums and bass, but my, how the Williams duo drove him along to the crescendo, and how they stilled for the close.
What a gig and, as at all Metheny gigs, what a deserved standing ovation with demands for more. And this we got as the guitar master re-entered, sat down as he had started but this time with a regular, to my eyes, acoustic guitar and soothed us with a medley of Minuano 6/8 and This Is Not America (fan’s video)
At this point, I must say that the pictures cast on the screens were very well co-ordinated and, I presume, were those streamed live on the internet. Hopefully there will be a DVD of this and other key performances of the weekend. In the meantime there’s this excerpt on YouTube.
Sadly, I wouldn't count Tohpati's Ethnomission among the best performances at the festival. But the eager crowd of mainly young folk, including school age students, did as they waited for the doors to open. As soon as we were allowed in, there was a mad dash to grab good seat, 'Er Indoors being among the most eager.
What was immediately clear was the immense rapport among the musicians, especially Tohpati and bassist Indro Harjdodikoro (pictured above). Both are immensely talented musicians. In my review of a gig by simakDialog, I described Tohpati as "sublimely, gorblimey gobsmacking good". This description would also apply to the interplay between all the musicians. These included Diki Suwarjiki on suling, Endang Ramdan on kendang and the amazing 18 year old drummer Demas Narawangsa. (Watch Demas here when he was 12 and here in a club gig with Tohpati last December.)
Yet, at the end I felt that much of their playing was over-rehearsed: there were no mistakes. I can understand why they're a popular group and one which seems to have brought Tohpati out of his shell: he spoke to the audience, the first time I've heard him.
Yet I want to see signs of elation, exaltation even, as he plays, much as other great guitarists such as Pat Metheny does, and my late friend Mickey Jones did. The great players go off into a world of their own as they create for the moment. I want my spine to tingle, for tears to come uninvited as they carry me with them.
There were such moments on Saturday and I shall treasure them.
Thank you Bobby and Pat.