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Posts Tagged ‘gamelan’

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TRACKLISTING:
1. Stepping In (10:01)
2. Lain Parantina (9:06)
3. Harmologic (3:52)
4. What I Would Say (6:17)
5. For Once and Never (6:29)
6. Common League (3:53)
7. As Far As It Can Be (Jaco) (8:01)
8. 5, 6 (4:38)
9. Ari (6:52)

LINEUP:
Riza Arshad – Fender Rhodes electric piano, acoustic piano, synth, soundscapes
Tohpati – guitar
Adhitya Pratama - bass
Endang Ramdan – Sundanese kendang percussion (left)
Erlan Suwardana – Sundanese kendang percussion (right)
Cucu Kurnia – assorted metal percussion

Undoubtedly the best-known modern Indonesian outfit in a progressive rock/jazz context, simakDialog have attracted a cult following in the West since the release of their 2007 live album Patahan (their first for Leonardo Pavkovic’s Moonjune Records), followed in 2009  by Demi Masa. Formed in 1993 in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta by jazz-trained keyboardist Riza Arshad and guitarist extraordinaire Tohpati Ario Hutomo, the band released three albums – Lukisan, Baur and Trance/Mission – between 1995 and 2002 before Pavkovic took them under his wing and gave them international recognition. After a series of mishaps (including the cancellation of NEARfest 2011, where they were scheduled to appear), their long-awaited US tour – which coincided with the release of their fifth studio album, The 6th Story – finally materialized in the late summer of 2013, kicking off with a headlining performance at ProgDay that was unfortunately interrupted by heavy rain, and wrapped up by a very well-attended show at the Orion Studios, introduced by French avant-garde trio Jean-Louis.

As used and abused as the “East meets West” definition can be, there is no better way to describe simakDialog’s music to the uninitiated. Alongside electric guitar, bass and that iconic cornerstone of jazz-rock, the Fender Rhodes electric piano, the six-piece configuration of the band features a trio of percussionists in the style of the traditional gamelan ensembles – Erdang Ramdan and Erlan Suwardana playing the Sundanese two-headed kendang drums, and Cucu Kurnia (the band’s most recent addition) handling metal percussion. The result is a uniquely warm sound with a remarkably natural flow, capable of flashes of angularity and even brief forays into noise, yet never overwrought. In addition, though each of simakDialog’s members is a virtuoso of his own instrument, the band emphasize ensemble playing at its finest rather than technical flash, with individual skills put at the service of the composition rather than the other way round.

SimakDialog’s music, on the other hand, may not prove to be the easiest proposition for those who are used to the in-your-face antics of many traditional prog bands. Subtlety is the operative word on The 6th Story, and that in itself requires a lot of patience on the part of the listener. Their leisurely, unhurried approach to live performance has also more in common with Eastern than Western tradition, focusing on the sheer joy of playing and the creation of subtle moods rather than the head-on adrenaline rush of the standard rock concert.

Clocking in at a handful of seconds under an hour, The 6th Story (the band’s first entirely instrumental album in over 10 years) opens with “Stepping In”, the album’s longest track, which aptly illustrates simakDialog’s  modus operandi. While the sinuous interplay of Tohpati’s guitar and Riza Arshad’s scintillating Fender Rhodes immediately leaps out from the speakers, it is the joyful mayhem of the three percussionists that impresses in the long run, bolstered by Adithya Pratama’s impeccable bass emerging every now and then in the foreground. The track unfolds with supreme elegance, spiced up by sound effects that turn slightly chaotic towards the end. The 9-minute “Lain Parantina” also conveys a sunny, bright feel with its oddly catchy main theme and skillfully handled tempo changes, gaining momentum then slowing down to an almost sparse texture,  held together by the steady stream of percussion. Tohpati’s guitar is spotlighted in the much shorter “Harmologic”, while the piano takes an almost supporting role, working almost as an additional percussion instrument. In the second shortest track on the album, “Common League”, soundscapes add an intriguing note to the lively yet fluid sparring of piano and guitar.

SimakDialog’s more energetic side surfaces in “5,6”, where Tohpati displays his rock credentials (amply demonstrated in his power trio Tohpati Bertiga’s 2012 debut, Riot) with a distorted guitar solo; while the upbeat “For Once and Never” revolves around the expressive, almost conversational interplay of the two main instruments, supported by Pratama’s versatile bass. The discreet, laid-back “What Should I Say” pleases the ear with its smooth sounds, and “As Far As It Can Be (Jaco)” – a tribute to the ground-breaking bassist written by Arshad together with fellow Indonesian musician Robert M.K. – takes on a suitably elegiac tone, full of lovely, stately melody. “Ari” then closes the album by giving synth a leading role alongside the piano, with the ever-reliable percussion background seconding the music’s ebb and flow.

For the audiophile, headphones will be a must in order to savour The 6th Story in full, as letting it run in the background will definitely not do any favours to the music’s understated elegance.  Although the album may resonate more with jazz fans than the average prog audience, it is highly recommended to all open-minded listeners, especially those who enjoy the influence of different ethnic traditions on established Western modes of expression. All in all, The 6th Story is an extremely classy  effort (and one of the standout releases of 2013) from a group of very nice, unassuming and talented musicians, whom I hope to see again in the US very soon.

Links:
http://simakdialog.com

http://www.moonjune.com/mjr_web_2013/artists_mjr/simakDialog/

https://myspace.com/simakdialog/music/songs

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Tracklisting:
1. Elephant Talk (4:43)
2. Frame by Frame (5:09)
3. Matte Kudasai  (3:47)
4. Indiscipline  (4:33)
5. Thela Hun Ginjeet  (6:26)
6. The Sheltering Sky (8:22)
7. Discipline (5:13)

Lineup:
Adrian Belew – lead vocals, guitars
Robert Fripp – guitars, devices (Frippertronics)
Tony Levin – bass, Chapman stick, backing vocals
Bill Bruford – drums, percussion

After two posts dedicated to recent albums,  now it is time to go back almost thirty years – to the beginning of that decade that, in the eyes of many people, is synonymous with the ‘dark ages’ as far as progressive rock is concerned.  In the eyes of many, the Eighties marked the triumph of style over substance, and therefore offered very little of interest to anyone looking for authentically progressive music. Obviously, this is in many ways a misconception, because during those momentous ten years for the history of the world a lot of great music was  produced – even though it sounded different from anything released by the trailblazing acts of the early Seventies.

One of those bands, King Crimson (whose 1969 masterpiece, the legendary In the Court of the Crimson King, had reputedly marked the official birth of the progressive rock era), had been laid to rest by its mastermind Robert Fripp after the release of the monumental Red in 1974.  Very few people expected them to resurface at the beginning of the new decade, when prog had become all but a four-letter word – not just with the inevitable Fripp at the helm, but also drummer Bill Bruford on board, as well as two newcomers (though with already a sizable amount of experience behind them) – bassist Tony Levin with his Chapman stick, and guitarist/vocalist Adrian Belew.

For those who had known King Crimson during their Seventies glory days, the release of Discipline in 1981 was nothing short of a shock.  No mellotrons (or any keyboards for that matter), no majestic vocal performances, no visionary lyrics – just a rhythm section to die for, two gifted guitarists trying to outdo each other at every opportunity, an incredibly expressive vocalist with an endearingly lazy American twang, and oodles of intriguing ethnic influences – notably Javanese gamelan music.  On the other hand, it would not be correct to say that Discipline has no connection with  the Crims ’70s  output.  Indeed, in some ways it takes up where “Lark’s Tongue in Aspic” left off – there is more than a touch of Jamie Muir’s crazy percussive brilliance in Bruford’s performance on this album.

One very evident influence on  Discipline,  especially as regards the  tracks featuring vocals,  is celebrated New Wave band Talking Heads, easily one of the most ‘progressive’ (in the true sense of the word) representatives of the so-called post-punk era – and no wonder, seen as Adrian Belew collaborated for some time with the New York band before being invited by Fripp to join the new incarnation of King Crimson. Belew’s manic, emotionally charged vocal delivery is noticeably influenced by David Byrne’s, although in my view Belew is by far the better vocalist. Needless to say, his style is light years removed from Greg Lake’s smooth, quintessentially English tones, or John Wetton’s rawer yet powerful delivery: as much of an acquired taste as Belew’s vocals may be, they are a perfect fit for the music showcased on Discipline.

It must be pointed out, however, that the numbers which feature more or less traditional singing amount to just half of the album. The true strength of “Discipline” lies in its magnificent instrumental tracks: the tense electric storm of “Indiscipline”, slashed by almost violent guitar flurries, and featuring a slightly disturbing spoken-word section; the ambient-influenced, African-tinged mood piece of “The Sheltering Sky” (inspired, like The Police’s  “Tea in the Sahara”, by Paul Bowles’ novel of the same title), which provides a welcome respite from the overall intensity of the album; and the title-track, which rounds things off in style with Fripp and Belew’s dueling guitars weaving in and out of Bruford’s and Levin’s thunderous, intricate rhythmic background.

Of the tracks featuring vocals, the laid-back, atmospheric ballad “Matte Kudasai” (Japanese for “please wait”), an alternate version of which is provided as a bonus track in the 2004 edition of the album, is the closest the album gets to the mainstream.  Though it is not a bad song by any means, displaying Belew’s gentler side as a vocalist, it feels somewhat out of place among the other, more exciting and innovative tracks. Conversely, opener “Elephant Talk”, spiked by all sorts of weird noises (courtesy of Belew’s notorious “elephant guitar”), a real vocal tour de force, with Belew half-singing, half-reciting his whimsical lyrics, sets immediately the scene, making it clear what the new Crimson are all about.  In a similar vein are the dynamic, though not as frantic, “Frame by Frame”, and the funky, percussion-driven “Thela Hun Ginjeet” (anagram of “Heat in the Jungle”), in whose central section Belew relates his narrow escape from muggers in NYC.

King Crimson  have always been quite famous for their stunning cover art, and Discipline is no exception, though – almost paralleling the album’s musical content  – the cover is much more minimalistic and streamlined than such baroque masterpieces as ITCOTCK and “Lizard”. Incidentally, the background colour is that shade of dark red commonly known as crimson, framing a spectacularly intricate Celtic knot – deceptively simple, extremely stylish, just like the album it contains.  However, do not be mistaken into thinking that Discipline might be – in true Eighties fashion – a triumph of style over substance. Although it may not everyone’s cup of tea, it is one of the undisputed masterpieces of progressive rock, and an enormously influential effort – as pointed out by Edward Macan, who dedicated a whole chapter of his seminal book Rocking the Classics to King Crimson’s comeback album.

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