After Tuslah’s gig @America, I ‘promised’ them that I’d be at their next one, at Ngayogjazz on the outskirts of Yogya, a city I hadn’t been to for – erm …time flies – twelve years? That was far too long, and so our family set plans and bookings in motion.
fr. Jakarta Post .
Held since 2007, the annual Yogyakarta village-to-village Ngayogjazz festival has been claiming success in familiarizing more people, especially in grass roots communities, with jazz, which is often seen as being high-end.
This year, it was held in Brayut, Pendowoharjo, Sleman regency. After hosting the festival in 2012, Budi Utomo, the manager of Brayut tourism village said the people of Brayut had become curious about jazz. Many had even expressed a passion for the music that they previously were not aware of.
“They also asked me where to get the CDs of the music they heard in the festival,” Budi said.
The simple answer was from one of the stalls set up in the village ‘market’, some from organisations such as Warta Jazz.
I also hoped to meet up with our friends in I Know You Well Miss Clara. As it turned out, Enriko, the bass player is currently immersed in writing a score for a performance project of a friend at ISI (Institute of Art), while Aji, the drummer, is a family man, so we didn’t get to meet.
However, Adi, the keyboard player, came to our hotel for a chat and we hoped to meet up at the festival site, but first he had to teach a student at Dwiki Dharamawan’s music school. Reza Ryan, the guitarist and lead composer, also had a student scheduled, but once he’d finished around three, we picked him up and he proved a useful guide to our taxi driver who dropped us off near the kampung. ‘Near’? is a euphemism for ‘not too far’ and a pleasant stroll through fields of growing rice.
It was still daylight when we arrived, but we didn’t get to see any bands because it was meet and greet time as Reza knew many of the musicians and promoters such as Agus and Aji from Warta Jazz, and there was browsing among the stalls for CDs and T-shirts and coffee to be drunk first.
While we were enjoying our refreshments, seated, the Dewa Budjana band was announced by two TV presenter types who have a propensity to shout at each other and laugh at each other’s jokes. We could hear all this quite well, and because the area from the stage back to us was an impenetrable throng we stayed put and listened to Dewa’s set.
They opened with an impressive lead in from Shadu Rasjidi (video) on bass and flute accompaniment from, I think, Saat Borneo. As Dewa joined in, Reza and I could recognise a familiar track from Surya Namaskar or possibly Joged Kayangan. Dewa’s melodies are catchy, definitely Indonesian and somewhat sentimental, yet for festival audiences, his guitar playing verges on power pop-rock. On The Way Home (video) is one of the saddest melodies I know, and when the familiar strains started I looked forward to the crowd being reduced to a quivering sobbing mass, but alas Dewa’s playing verged on angry and not one tear dripped down my cheek.
This was followed by some well-received free-form playing between drums and keyboard (loudly cheered by the throng) while both Shadu and Dewa stood to one side and watched smiling before joining in for some heavy funk.
At that point, thinking that there was time for just one more number, Reza and I struggled through the dark to the rear of the stage because I had a couple of CDs I’d promised to give Dewa’s wife when we met at Java Jazz earlier this year. We got there just as he was coming down the steps, and he beckoned us to follow. There was a long line of women – both young and their mums, who’d probably been fans of Gigi, Dewa’s rock band – wanting ‘selfies’ with him. I was impressed with his forbearance. We didn’t want our pictures taken, and waited until the acolytes were gently ushered out before having a brief chat.
Tuslah were due to play on another stage, so Reza and set off to fetch ‘Er Indoors and Our Lad. The setting was much calmer with the audience seated on the ground in front of the patio of a traditional Dutch house. On stage were the Solo Jazz Society, a ‘traditional’ piano lead trio.
They played classic tunes from the jazz repertoire, but with ‘dischords’ from Aditya Ong on piano which gave an added spice. His interplay with the bass player (sorry, name unknown) reminded me of some great duo recordings such as Jimmy Rowles and Charlie Haden. Their distinctiveness got Reza singing and whistling along with Bill Evans’ Waltz for Debby.
Their closer, John Coltrane’s Countdown seemed to suggest that “if you want heavy, we got it” and they deserved the prolonged applause.
Tuslah arrived almost immediately, Sri ‘Aga’ Hanuraga sporting a new haircut and Riza Arshad with a nose mask below his chin. I asked him if he still felt jet-lagged having only a day or so ago arrived back from eight days of well-received simakDialog gigs in the USA. He said that he was ok but tended to “drift off”.
Their set was familiar to me, yet different , but not just because the set list had changed. This is a dynamic group; in order to ‘get’ their music, one has to listen and observe the interplay between the equal partners. They don’t play to an audience but for themselves, and that is the essential ingredient of jazz. It’s worth repeating what the wife of a friend said after Tuslah’s Jakarta gig in August: “Their music is like eating olives: an acquired taste, but great once you’ve got it.”
From where we sat at the back of the small ‘arena’, we observed several folk who didn’t ‘get it’, but as I informed one departing group of western tourists, they were ‘captured’ on the video recording of the set as they left. “Oh, that camera?”
The scheduled forty-five minutes were soon up and it was time for an interview with the two ‘TV presenters’. This went on for nearly as long as the music: thirty five minutes, but as Ngayogjazz is essentially community-based, one cannot complain. The villagers and we guests now know that Tuslah is a combination of much hard work. With thirty years in the business, and now celebrating twenty years with simakDialog and a live DVD and CD about to be released internationally on MoonJune, Riza is a senior in Indonesia’s jazz scene. Adra, Elfa and Aga have fairly recently completed degrees in jazz at European universities, so they bring a different perspective to their music.
Chatting with Aga afterwards, I asked if they’d had time to rehearse, and he said that they’d had a brief run through of the numbers, but seemed to have forgotten some of them. However, there were no such problems once they’d taken the stage.
For me, there was a particular moment of pleasure when I told him of how my father played stride piano – “Oh, I love stride“, and that a treasured memory is of seeing Errol Garner live nearly – gulp – fifty years ago. “Wow …. my favourite“, and Aga then ‘channelled’ a couple of bars of Errol, left hand striding, and right hand tinkling away. Effusive thanks, Aga.
I’ve been to a few open air festivals: Isle of Wight in 1970 (where I slept through the last live performance of Jimi Hendrix), Malataverne in 1971 (video) and Glastonbury in 1985. Ngayogjazz’s village setting added a welcome dose of domesticity: the estimated 15,000 attendees behaved respectfully, as good guests should.
I look forward to future welcomes.
Reza told us that every Sunday evening he plays at the Mediterranea Restaurant and invited us along. With his bass partner Ignatius Made, the three of us were treated to a ‘private’ gig as they played a set of standards, Reza may have listened closely to the late Jim Hall, and he did play a few Metheny chords, but he has a distinct ‘voice’.
The surprise though was when Luise Najib added her singing to the second set. I’ve since discovered that she made it through to the round of 12 in season 1 (2013) of The Voice Indonesia and she has her own YouTube channel.
What an astonishing, note perfect voice, such power, such control. The trio played for themselves and we were sucked in, entranced.
A brief chat afterwards, and she told me that she had released a single, but I suggested that she and Reza should record an album of standards, an almost certain commercial success. But, she said, “I don’t understand jazz.” I pointed out, she did: she’d sung from the heart, eyes shut and in total empathy with the guitar and bass.