1. Paradox (7:11)
2. Stravinsky (with Bach intro) (11:32)
3. Future (7:17)
4. Don Juan (6:13)
5. Bliker 3 (10:15)
6. Etude Indienne (12:51)
7. Miles Away (4:15)
8. Transparansi (13:16)
Adi Darmawan – bass guitar, piano (5)
Agam Hamzah – guitar
Gusti Hendi – drums, percussion
In Bahasa Indonesia, the language spoken in the vast south-east Asian archipelago, orgil means “crazy people”, and its backward spelling. Ligro, has been chosen as a handle by a fiery power trio led by guitarist extraordinaire Agam Hamzah – together with Tohpati Ario Hutomo, one of the hottest new names on the contemporary guitar scene. Dictionary 2 is the barnstorming international debut by Hamzah and his equally talented cohorts, bassist Adi Darmawan and drummer Gusti Hendi, released on NYC label Moonjune Records – whose mainman, Leonardo Pavkovic, keeps unearthing new gems in far-flung places like Indonesia, obscure to most Westerners in spite of their rich musical tradition. Formed in 2004, Ligro have already released an album (titled Dictionary 1), and participated to various musical events in their home country and abroad.
As pointed out on the band’s website, the three members have different cultural backgrounds –which might well surprise those Western listeners who are unaware of Indonesia’s history and cultural diversity. In particular, drummer Gusti Hendi originates from Kalimantan (the Indonesian part of the island of Borneo), and a Gondang drum – a percussion instrument of the Batak people of Sumatra, which he plays with a “Kalimantan beat” – seamlessly integrates with the rest of his Western-style kit. Ligro’s sound, on the other hand, is for the most part inspired by jazz-rock/fusion greats such as Jeff Beck, Allan Holdsworth, Mahavishnu Orchestra and their ilk – in this, a perfect complement to another excellent 2012 album coming from Indonesia, Tohpati Bertiga’s Riot.
As can be expected, the eight tracks on Dictionary 2 – ranging from the 4 minutes of the Miles Davis tribute of “Miles Away” to the 13 minutes of closer “Transparansi” – hinge on Hamzah’s scintillating guitar, which manages to run the gamut from understated, almost wistful melody to fiery, hard-edged runs and breathtaking bravura pieces. While Adi Damarwan’s bass provides a discreet but ever-present bottom end, its flexible, well-rounded sound emerging in selected occasions (such as the stunningly intricate interplay of “Etude Indienne”), Gusti Hendi proves to be Hamzah’s true sparring partner on the album. This becomes evident right from the opening bars of “Paradox”, where Hendi’s authoritative, cymbal-heavy style sets the pace for a barrage of stop-start riffs, repeated in different pitches until pace slows down, allowing Hamzah to deploy his more sensitive, melodic side. “Stravinsky”, one of the album’s undisputed highlights, is based on the titular composer’s “An Easy Piece Using Five Notes”, and introduced by a Bach-inspired intro sketched by guitar and bass. The low-key mood of the intro, however, soon gains in intensity, with drums and guitar sparring fiercely until the almost slo-mo ending. A respite is offered by the measured, melody-infused “Future”, and the bluesy yet subdued “Don Juan”, with its nod to vintage Jeff Beck.
While the lovely, classical-styled piano intro (courtesy of Adi Dimarwan) of the 10-minute “Bliker 3” might point to another low-key affair, this is only partly true, because the loose, almost improvisational texture of the track hides a keen sense of tension, complete with eerie spacey effects – and even veering into heavier territory in the track’s exhilarating climax. Hamzah and Dimarwan duel at often breakneck speed in the virtuoso piece “Etude Indienne”, which employs Indian scales traditionally played on the sitar; Hendi’s drumming, on the other hand, keeps a low profile until the end, when it resumes its assertive tone. As the tongue-in-cheek title suggests,”Miles Away” is the jazziest (and the shortest) number on the album, its choppy, jaunty pace somewhat muted in contrast with the earlier fireworks. The jam-like “Transparansi” closes the album with a bang, almost drawing together all the motifs previously introduced, and allowing Hendi to indulge in some traditional percussion work that adds a note of warmth to the slightly chaotic texture of the composition.
Clocking in at about 73 minutes, Dictionary 2 is undoubtedly an ambitious endeavour, though – quite unlike the majority of albums with such a hefty running time – it hardly ever outstays its welcome. The sheer amount of energy and enthusiasm that permeate almost every minute of the album make listening a much easier and more rewarding task than it would ordinarily be for an album half of whose tracks exceed the 10-minute mark. While the East-meets-West component is limited, the tantalizing input of ethnic elements increases the interest quotient of the ebullient, jazz-rock matrix of the sound. Last but not least, the striking cover artwork connects the album to the rich cultural tradition of Ligro’s homeland. Dictionary 2 is highly recommended to guitar freaks and jazz-rock fans – and, in general, to anyone keen on discovering new frontiers in progressive music-making. Agam Hamzah, Adi Damarwan and Gusti Hendi are indeed “crazy people”, but in the best possible way.