Last Friday evening was spent listening to some fine music from mainly MoonJune artists at the 10th JavaJazz Festival, held in north Jakarta at the Kemayoran Expo/Fairgrounds – pick your own name because taxi drivers do.
This was my 'planned' schedule: those in bold are those who I got to see and hear.
19:00 – 20:00: Dewa Budjana Band
20:00 – 21:00: Gilang Ramadhan w. Adi Darmawan (Ligro) & Ivan Nestorman
21:30 – 22:45: Tohpati & Friends
22:30 – 23:30: Tuslah (w. Riza Arshad)
22:45 – 00:00: Indra Lesmana & Maurice Brown Project
(Leonardo would like Indra to record for MoonJune)
00:15 – 01:15: Dwiki Dharmawan & Friends
(Dwiki may join the MoonJune roster)
00:30 – 01:30: Tomorrow People Ensemble
(Who I highly recommend as potential MoonJune artists.)
I had arranged to meet Bali-based Arlo, who is MoonJune's representative in Indonesia, at his hotel in Kemayoran which was convenient for getting to the night's entertainment.
That it took me two and a half hours to get Arlo's hotel from Jakartass Towers Redux says much about the city's appalling traffic conditions: "Macet/banjir (gridlock/ floods), Mister."
Whatever, Arlo, as a company representative, had a free pass, and because I write about events like these for the main English-language media, I managed to wangle one too. As the ticket-on-arrival cost was a quarter of the government-set minimum monthly wage, I was quite pleased about that. There was another benefit too: we could wander backstage and chat with various musicians, Arlo's main objective.
Upon entering we first tried to find the one sponsored by the Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy where Dewa Budjana was going to play. The map of the area was not in the printed programme, nor was it on the stand alone maps which were occasionally to be found on the outer ring of walkways, so Arlo resorted to exchanging text messages with Dewa.
With some time to kill, I set off on my next necessary objective, which was to exchange some cash for a bank tap-and-debit card with which I could get some much needed food. Yes, except, thankfully, for the Heineken beer stall, the festival was largely cash-free. At the entrance security checks punters are searched, not for bombs but for illicit food stuffs!
There is a rather clichéd image of a jazz lover as a 'beatnik' wearing sandals and a beard, who is probably proto-vegetarian. Well, I'm a jazz-lover, my sandals are for beach wear, but I do have a skimpy beard and am a confirmed vegetarian. So what fare did JavaJazz offer a hungry vegetarian punter?
All I could find was bread and Haagen-Daaz ice cream. W'aduh, but I hungered after some good music to provide better sustenance. And that's what I heard from a group which had Adi Darmawan (of Ligro) on bass and a guitarist who, at first, I thought could be a shaven-headed Agam Hamzah, Ligro's guitarist. But no, I was told that he'd already left. I had to stop and listen, because if I shut my
ears eyes, I could hear Bill Frisell.
I later learned that he was Yuri Jo, an Indonesian guitarist and teacher living and working in Brisbane, Australia. I would have loved to have heard more, but it was time to get over to the stage where Dewa was about to play. He has a new album out on MoonJune, Surya Namaskar, recorded last year in the USA with A-list jazzers Jimmie Johnson and Vinnie Colaiuta, and that was the core of the set we heard.
I've said elsewhere that for me Dewa is the most lyrical Indonesian guitarist, but of late and especially in this set his playing has got 'heavier': his Mahavishnu side has emerged. This is not just a reflection of his Hinduism but that of John McLauglin's first Mahavishnu Orchestra who blew me away at a London gig in '72.
Dewa had recruited new, younger, members for this gig. Friday's line up featured Yandi Andaputra, not yet 18, on drums who supplied a solid rock beat, Shadu Rasjidi (video), 24, whose fluent Jaco-ish runs on bass were a constant and were particularly empathetic with Sigit 'Didiet' Aditya, 24-ish, on violin.
On keyboards was Donny Joesran, but from where I was sitting I couldn't hear him. However, the impressive synth like sounds conjured up by Didiet more than compensated. (In this video he is playing a Tohpati tune, Mahabarata.)
Not then being familiar with the new album, I couldn't say which numbers from it were played. But the hour passed in a blur – where did the time go? – always the sign of a good gig. We wanted more because this was obviously Dewa Budjana's music, yet he seemed at ease with pushing his boundaries rather than being a crowd pleaser and playing within his comfort zone. Much of that was due to his confidence in the recently emerged jazz stars he'd recruited, which fans of Indonesian jazz should surely welcome.
After the gig, we chatted with Dewa and I commented on the Mahavisnu vibe having replaced that of the previous Pat Metheny influence in Indonesia. I glanced down and noticed that one of his group of friends was wearing a Mahavishnu T-shirt. What goes round comes around I thought.
Later, a few lucky punters, including me and a Russian tourist exploring the local jazz scene, got a signed copy of Surya Namaskar – but you can listen to it and download it here.
Arlo and I spent so much time chatting with various folk, including Adeline Kusumawardani, the new manager of I Know You Well Miss Clara whose album Chapter One was released on MoonJune last year, that we arrived a little late for the Tohpati and Friends set. Dewa had told us that he'd be coming along later, but he'd have missed us because … well …
The hall was standing room only. I knew how popular Tohpati is in Indonesia, but that's largely because he is an in-demand session player for pop artists (and the YellowJackets). The first number we heard featured a friend, and I've no idea who he was, playing soprano sax. I can only describe the music as Pat Metheny meets Kenny G, with a backbeat. Arlo suggested that it was suitable for a cruise ship or, downmarket a little, a hotel lounge. For me, it is a given that Tohpati is a major guitarist in the world's jazz firmament, so it was extremely disappointing that he wasn't about to prove this to the audience.
Three numbers were enough and we left, observing as we did that a lot of the audience seemed to be engrossed in their smart phone apps. We set off to find Riza Arshad who was going to play with his new group, Tuslah. Meeting a long-term expat friend was fortunate because he knew that the venue was on the 6th floor of the main building, another stage which didn't feature on the maps!
The security man at the doors noted our passes and let us into the soundcheck. The first thing I noticed was that the instrumentation was somewhat unique: piano, Hammond organ, a set of drums and synths. And what we were to hear was to prove not just unique but also exceptional, or 'innovative' as I was to describe it to Riza afterwards.
But first, Paul Dankmeir, executive director of JavaJazz, presented an award to Riza for his outstanding contribution to the Festival over the past 10 years, and I'd suggest for his wider mentoring and curatorship within the local jazz scene.
And then the gig began with Riza introducing first, the "one and only" Sri Hanuraga on piano; Sri was the 'H' in W/H/A/T, Riza being the 'A'. Adra Karim at the Hammond organ and Elfa Zulham on drums are both members of the Tomorrow People Ensemble, a group deserving of international exposure. And Riza played synth.
The first number opened with a distorted recording of Soekarno giving his Proclamation speech, which Sri offered a syncopated beat to, later joined on drums. The atmosphere was worrying as the story unfolded, and when the Hammond joined it became tempestuous, warlike even. This was not typical 'ethnic-world jazz', yet it was a distinctly Indonesian tale and brought to my mind the events of May '98, the nervous energy and the unknown future.
The second number brought some respite, more straightahead jazz, but as good as any I've heard in many gigs, with Riza's synths reminding me of Pat Metheny's full blast guitar wailings.
Riza rocks …
The third number was At A Glance by Sri. My notes don't record whether it was this one which opened with him reading sheet music and playing a nigh on impossible shower of notes thus demonstrating a hand-eye coordination way more attuned than we mere mortals can aspire to, while Agra played in an upper register unfamiliar to Hammond devotees.
But it was the fourth (?) number, Changes by Adra, which boggled me, and sent us all away from our cameras which we'd been using, anxious for future memories of unfamiliar sounds. Adra's instrument produced music which the likes of funk organists such as Jimmy Smith, Jimmy McGriff and Georgie Fame could not have dreamt of.
Chatting with Adra later, he told me that he'd been partly influenced by Balinese gong kebyar. Thus the ethereal echoing oscillations, Sri playing the keys and strings of his piano simultaneously, and the faster, louder explosive charge into … a march … an express train which carried us along.
Riza told me that he was really happy to have young really talented musicians in his group, and so were we. I somehow missed Tuslah’s four previous gigs, but anticipate with eagerness their next. And, for the rest of the jazz world, watch out for their yet-to-be-recorded album.
Over to you, Leonardo.
Adra has written to tell me that the number he wrote is actually called Oliver’s Changes. It is “dedicated to a German mentor that [he] had the chance to study with in Holland, Oliver Groenewald“, a trumpeter, composer and arranger. This is his group Newnet at a small gig in Cologne in 2006.