Sunday, October 19, 2008
  Simak Dialog in Concert

Following up on the invite which arrived as a comment, four of us went to the Goethe Institute to see (and obviously hear) Simak Dialog (SD) in concert on Friday. 'Er Indoors and I discussed the last gig we'd been to and realised that it must have been over 12 years ago, before Our Kid came along, and Our Kid was twelve on Thursday, so it was his first gig.

Anticipating traffic jams, we arrived at 7 for the 8 o'clock start, which wasn't in fact until 8.30. But no matter, having paid for our tickets and bought a copy of the new album, Demimasa, we got some refreshments and grabbed empty chairs at a table occupied by a handsome young couple, and got talking. Three of us had been to the Pat Metheny concert in the tennis arena at Senayan in central Jakarta on October 22nd 1995, thirteen years ago, and this was mentioned because at the time the leader/composer of Simak Dialog, Riza Arshad and I had a student in common named Rima (?). He taught her piano and I taught her English, and she gave me a copy of SD's demo cassette, and we met at the Metheny gig.

JH and I commented on the distinct lack of publicity for Metheny, then already a major sell out artist throughout the world, and wondered why the tennis arena was only about a quarter full with about 500 in the audience. The young man then told us about a flourishing scene in Indonesia of bands who try to replicate Metheny numbers - note for note? - at gigs. I didn't know that, and if I hadn't been sent the invite, I wouldn't have known about the SD gig either. So we discussed how annoying it is that rather than having had notice in the Jakarta Post of forthcoming gigs, we are only able to read reviews after the event of those we wish we'd been at.

By the way, we asked the young man, what do you do?
"I write reviews of gigs for the Jakarta Post," he told us.

Ho hum, ha ha.

The gig was advertised through an internet forum; in other words, by invite to those in the know through Riza Arshad's Facebook site, which is further evidence of the slow decline of the established media.

"archipelago rhythm and life"

The Goethe Institute holds about 300 folk and the seats were just about comfortable, but I had to take care to sit behind another tall guy, so Our Kid could have at least a partial view of the stage on which were a baby grand piano, a Fender electric piano, a few monitors and, to our right, three sets of assorted drums and gamelan pans.

The sound quality for the first two or three numbers was adequate for a church hall, but seemed to have been sorted out after half an hour. Either that, or our ears had attuned, because what we were hearing was different; although I rarely wish to pigeonhole my musical tastes, it is usual to trace echoes of familiarity.

And this is my attempt.

Riza Arshad, the leader and composer, played the keyboards, but mainly the Rhodes, as he allowed the others to be at the forefront, particularly guitarist Tohpati. He filled out the overall sound and sometimes sat back and enjoyed the interplay of the others. Apart from when he was soloing, head down totally within himself, his body language was one of relaxed confidence, highlighted by his bare feet.

Tohpati Aryo Hutomo rarely smiled and I'm not sure he even looked at the audience. Unusually for a 'lead' guitarist', he sat throughout. Much of his playing was as a rhythm guitarist adding to the grooves set up by the percussionists, but when counterpointing I could detect echoes, but not necessarily influences, of Phil Miller (In Cahoots), Terje Rypdal, Bill Frisell, and Pat Metheny, his original influence. For me, at times he was sublimely, gorblimey gobsmacking and I want to hear him as leader of his own group.

Adhitya Pratama on bass, stood unsmiling, virtually immobile, and proved an immaculate timekeeper, providing a solid unobtrusive underpinning throughout.

The three crosslegged percussionists with their tabla-like percussion offered a quite thrilling alternative to the more 'traditional' drummer. Endang Ramdan played a large Sundanese kendang (bass drum from west Java) as did Erlan Swardana, who also played a smaller kethuk. Dressed in white, they sandwiched Emy Tata, dressed in black, who played a kanrang, a kendang from the Bugis capital, Makassar, ceng ceng, which I think was a set of gamelan gongs hit with a muffled hammer. Many of their sequences of grooves were interspersed with rhythmic sequences of hand clappings.

They were totally in sync, especially when they interplayed with each other and Tohpati. That much of the music was riffs and grooves allowed a great variation and a less devotional audience might well have whooped and hollered along with them. Strangely but happily, the most effective and charming audience response came from a babe in arms behind us who, as the first piece ended and before the eager clappers let rip, let out a beautiful sigh of 'yeah'.

Dave Lumenta offered 'soundscapes' which I often found intrusive, except on the occasions that he sent waves of wind between the left and right speakers.

Riza opened one number on the acoustic baby grand, and I could then appreciate the comment Leonardo Pavkovic, CEO of MoonJune Records, made when I interviewed him about Indonesian music for Culture Shock-Jakarta: Riza Arshad is an amazing pianist with great touch and ECM sensibility.

I must now hunt out his CD Riza Trioscapes to see if his "subtle jazz-funk" has that sensibility.

Leonardo is thanked for his support and for sharing musical opinions on the new album, Demimasa.

I am talking to Riza to liberate himself and challenge his artistic ego with evolutionary and free music spirit, without being afraid to say musically what he wants to say.

I have noticed that Indonesian jazz and prog musicians tend to have smooth jazz affinities, maybe they believe it is a safe way to do the music, while I am asking Riza to abandon the safe way of expressing himself and to experiment more, which he will do.

And that's what we heard on Friday, a challenging 'west meet southeast' mixture. Riza and his colleagues have not yet produced the classic fusion of Indonesia 'ethnic' music with western instrumentation, but listeners unafraid to explore this path with them will be well rewarded with their latest album.

The gig was too long at two and a half hours and there was little need for the Pat Metheny themed pieces to close the show. Furthermore, the hall was so cold from the airconditioning and we were so stiff from the barely padded seats that we could barely stir ourselves at the end, let alone talk to each other.

And Our Kid, who'd applauded enthusiastically, wanted to know why there were no singers of the 'songs', something I was actually grateful for.
A correction - Riza has emailed me to say that Emy Tata didn't play that day. He moved and now resides in Makassar - back to his nature. Cucu Kurnia helped us that night in filling Emy's place. He's a Sundanese kendang-ist as well, and also a drummer. He will be our 3rd permanent percussionist I hope.
SD's first 3 albums, Lukisan (2002), Baur and Trance/Mission (both 2005), are available locally or through their MySpace site which lists 840 'friends'. I find it disturbing that among those listed are Jaco Pasorius and Thelonius Monk, both long dead. Folk outside Indonesia can order their most recent albums, Patahan (2007) and Demimasa, whose CD launch I have attempted to describe above, from MoonJune Records.


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