“I like equally improvised and non-improvised music; each has its own value and beauty, but in my case I place music in only three categories, the music I like, the music I do not like and anything in between.”
– Leonardo ‘MoonJune’ Pavkovic
The first time I ‘met’ Leonardo Pavkovic was through an email he sent me in June 2002 from New York. I wondered if he was a spammer because I didn’t know his name or how he’d got hold of my address. The explanation was simple: we belonged to the same Yahoo group, What’s Rattlin’, which is devoted to the music of the ‘Canterbury Scene‘, groups such as Caravan and Soft Machine (SM).
Leo was, and still is, the manager of various incarnations of SM: from Software to Softworks to the current and longest lasting name, Soft Machine Legacy. Having established MoonJune Global Media, he was organizing a tour of Asia for Software, with a line-up of Allan Holdsworth (guitar), John Marshall (drums), Hugh Hopper (bass) and Elton Dean (sax and keyboards). Sadly for me and other Canterbury aficionados, there was to be no gig in Jakarta then, nor since.
MoonJune Records was “started by accident in 2001 with three live albums, two of Italian progressive rock bands, Finisterre and D.F.A., and one of Elton Dean with Mark Hewins.” However, it wasn’t until 2005 that Leonardo got ‘serious’ with his label, with a focus “to release internationally-situated music by artists exploring the expanding boundaries of genuine, challenging, non-over-produced music that cannot be easily categorized, yet within an evolutionary musical continuum that places jazz at one end and rock at the other.”
Formed in 1996, Discus (video) played an eclectic mix of rock, jazz fusion, contemporary classical and traditional Indonesian sounds which reflected the many influences and backgrounds of the group members. Leonardo discovered a copy of their album during a European trip and contacted the guitarist Iwan Hassan who asked him to help with arranging gigs in the USA. In October 2000, they had three gigs booked, and that was how he first met Riza Arshad , who was the sound engineer.
At the time Leonardo said: “Indonesian jazz and prog musicians tend to have smooth jazz affinities: maybe they believe it is a safe way to make the music.” This was more likely due to the taste of the impresarios and sponsors who organised the major jazz festivals such as JakJazz. Yet he felt Riza was “an amazing pianist with a great touch and the sensibility of an ECM artist. I am asking Riza to abandon the safe way of expressing himself and to experiment more.”
Lukisan was released in 1996, the year after the Pat Metheny Group played in Jakarta on their We Live Here world tour. The influence of Metheny was immense on Indonesia’s jazz musicians, and not just simakDialog; indeed, echoes can still be heard in today’s emerging musicians.
Leonardo has a special relationship with Riza Arshad and in 2006 he said this: “I have been talking to Riza to liberate himself and to challenge his artistic ego with an evolutionary and free music spirit, without being afraid to say musically what he wants to say.
However, by the time the third album Trance Mission was released in 2002, the drums had been replaced with kendang and other percussion instruments. Riza told me: “With my experience working and producing artists, I had started to build sense of my musical identity. Playing in an entirely western mode was no longer a challenge to me, which is why I like to have a specific sound and colour in my music.”
It was this album which convinced Leonardo to further explore Indonesia’s rich music scene, and he paid his first visit in 2003. And so began a process of networking which has produced a dozen albums by Indonesian artists with at least three more in production, and other projects in mind.
MoonJune has now released four albums by simakDialog: Patahan (2007), recorded live in Jakarta, Demi Masa (2009) and 6th Story (2013), both produced by Riza, and Live at Orion (2015), a double CD recorded in Baltimore, USA during a tour promoted by Leonardo.
A comparative listen to Patahan and Live at Orion shows a linear development from local insularity to international freedom. There is a marked empathy between the western instrumentalists and Indonesian ‘traditional’ percussionists. Whether jamming in the studio or performing on stage, they all ‘play’ in both senses of the word because they have fun together.
Guitarist Tohpati has long been highly regarded in Indonesia as a prolific arranger and session player for mainstream singers. With simakDialog and his own albums, he exemplifies the growth of creative musicianship witnessed over the past twenty or so years. In his own albums, produced in his home studio, he has incorporated familiar Indonesian themes. This came to the fore with his first MoonJune album, Tohpati Ethnomission – Save the Planet (2010), which featured Endang Ramdan from simakDialog on assorted Indonesian percussion, his friend and regular bass partner Indro Hardjodikoro, and Demas Narawangsa, then just 16 years old, on drums.
He followed this with Tohpati Bertiga – Riot (2012), a power trio workout with friend Indro and drummer Adityo Wibowo, whose main group is Gugun Blues Shelter. In terms of Tohpati’s recordings, this was a major departure, more Allan Holdsworth than Terje Rydal. This ‘power’ is further displayed on Tribal Dance (2014), an album recorded in LA with Jimmy Haslip (bass) and Chad Wackerman (drums) in 2013 while simakDialog were in the States for the short tour which produced Live at Orion.
In 2012, Leonardo released Dictionary 2 self-produced by another Indonesian power trio, Ligro, who’ve been together since 2004. With Agam Hamzah on guitar, the ubiquitous bassist Adi Darmawan, and Gusti Henny on drums, they categorize their music as jazz / experimental / rock / blues, but when one knows that Ligro is Orgil backwards, and that is an acronym for ‘orang gila‘ (crazy man), then one can only expect the unexpected. “We play the music as what the heart says. Music is fun and the creation is limitless.”
Gusti is the drummer with Gigi, one of the most successful pop-rock groups in Indonesia, who can sell out stadiums. The Gigi guitarist is Dewa Budjana, who is perhaps the most prolific recording artist in Indonesia. There are twenty one albums with Gigi, one each with Java Jive, Indra Lesmana’s group, and Trisum with Tohpati and Balawan, and nine solo albums, two of which, Samsara (2003) and Home (2009) were recorded in California with the ubiquitous Pete Erskine on drums. Tracks from those albums are included on a compilation Dawai in Paradise, released on MoonJune in 2013. The title song is for his eldest son.
Since then, Dewa has recorded four more albums for MoonJune in the States: Joged Kahyangan (2013) with Larry Goldings, Bob Mintzer, Jimmy Johnson and, once again, Pete Erskine; Surya Namaskar (2014) is dedicated to “Mr. Peter Erskine, my Mentor and my Friend“, however Vinnie Colaiuta is on drums with Jimmy Johnson on bass. Dewa’s latest album, Hasta Karma (2015) has another stellar line up: Ben Williams (upright bass) and Antonio Sanchez (drums), both in Pat Metheny’s Unity Band, Joe Locke (vibraphone), and Indra Lesmana (piano, melodica), who was also on Home, on three tracks. For his next album, his sidesmen are Tony Levin (bass), Gary Husband (keyboards and Jack DeJohnette (drums).
What marks Dewa as special is that although he can rock with the best, there is a lyrical side which reflects his spirituality rooted in his native Bali. His melodies are the key, recognizably ‘Indonesian’; furthermore in composing and arranging all the tracks, as well as producing the majority of his albums, he retains his integrity.
– Links to albums are generally BandCamp streams.
– Part 2 is here.