If you’re fanatic to jazz, what would you like to have most from it? Is it the manic explorations, glittery improvisations, the challenging, unthinkable and unpredictable moves, or the music with free spirit? Is it the bursting, vibrant colors of jazz, the rhythmical path or the blue notes? Or maybe it’s simply just the swing and bebop? Whatever your interest is, here’s a very strong album that will meet your satisfaction. Came all the way from Netherlands, The Brag Pack is ready to take you into a wondrous jazz journey.
The Brag Pack comprises of multi-national talents who started their bond as friends when living in Amsterdam. That includes a shining young star from our own land Sri “Aga” Hanuraga who has 10 magic fingers that can do the wizardous dance over the keys. Besides Aga, the group has Hungarian Dániel Mester (saxes), German Paul Rutschka (electric bass) and Roald Becher from Holland (drums). We are proud to have Aga in this band, but it was Paul Rutschka who actually formed the band. “He is a guy with exceptional musical vision who knew for sure what kind of players would fit the band” said Aga. Paul established the band in early 2011 but the history actually started way back then in 2005 when they got together for the very first time while studying at the Faculty of Jazz at the Conservatorium van Amsterdam. Later they teamed up with Dániel who arrived in Amsterdam in 2009 for taking a Master level. Not long after the group got assembled, they released a 5 track demo EP in May 2011, but only two demo songs were included in the album (Paul’s arrangement “Drive By” and Aga’s “Blues for McCoy”).
It isn’t difficult for them to build their visionary concept since they have been friends for years. But here comes the interesting part of it. When you listen to the album, you’ll notice many flavors fused in together, wrapped by the freedom and intention as one to find a new musical land. “We are the kind of cats who get bored easily.” said Aga. That should be able to explain how they can use the composition as the vehicle for musical exploration to produce different sounds. Another thing that we should know is that the group has various different backgrounds. Paul and Roald had a funk, soul and hip hop background, Paul was even a rapper some years ago, Dániel got a rock and classical music background and Aga used to play progressive rock music. It could be an obstacle for others to find their finest blend as a team but not for The Brag Pack. Besides as closed friends, they also have similar approaches to music.
It took only a year for them to launch their debut album. The making itself was pure fun. There was no time limit in completing the album since the studio where they recorded belongs to Paul. “Nobody around, just the band and the music… and of course good food..” recalled Aga. What’s interesting is that often their rehearsals happened at hang out places like bar, apartment or even on the bus. They just talked about it, but then when they actually played it, everything just fell into place. Still with this kind of calm ambience they only needed 4 recording days and 2 months of production, mixing and mastering. Just as how the graphic design on the cover goes, the band now has placed their finger prints on the music industry, not only in Amsterdam but also throughout Europe and every other corner of the globe, all the way to Indonesia.
The Brag Pack’s 1st album “Just Braggin'” contains selection of 12 songs as a combination among their original compositions, interpretation of Poland traditional song “Cassubian Notes” and Indonesian folk songs which are interestingly written in a twist: “Illir Illir” and “Cublack Suweng”, plus one patriotic anthem from the Indonesian war era, “Bangun Pemuda Pemudi” by the legendary composer Alfred Simanjuntak. It’s very interesting to see how a multi-national band like this play the Indonesia’s Javanese folk songs which often contain pentatonical scales, but they’ve done a remarkable job. Being well-established instrumentalists in each of their positions plus the never ending musical curiosity, they managed to create a whole new atmosphere for these songs, great rearrangements which nicely executed. The braveness of pinning these songs brings the reminiscence of the spirit of the legendary Indonesian All Stars (Bubi Chen, Jack Lesmana, Jopie Chen, Kiboud Maulana, Maryono and Benny Mustafa) when they performed at the Berlin Jazz Festival 1967 and recorded an album there entitled “Djanger Bali”. It’s lovely to finally found a band which dares to take a risk in presenting something unique in total freedom. No wonder these songs become the highlights of the album as said by many listeners.
With wide musical (jazz) spectrum found throughout the album, it’s obvious you’ll have different ideas in defining the album to fit in any categories. Brilliant arrangements are the result of the band members’ rich ideas. What makes it even better is the way they execute this mad creativity to create a contemporary fusion with uncountable influences. From bop, hardbop, swing, blues, funk, modern groove to some cases of progressive and experimental, even a classical pattern can be found here and there. Listen to how free Dániel Mester floated above the rushing stream of notes. His manic approach reminds us of charlie Parker, John Coltrane or Sonny Rollins’ masterpiece albums back then in the bop emergence era. Aga did such a brilliant job in presenting the style of piano playing we rarely heard. This ‘scientific’ young pianist’s contribution in this album is massive. He contributed in bringing not only the Indonesian traditional repertoires and arrangements but also the sparkling, lightning fast finger dance on the keys. If you’re a bassist or someone who’s really into the bass sound, the founder Paul Rutschka should give you more ideas in playing it. His work on the songs is far more than just guarding the rhythm. For example, listen to his ‘wah-wah’ effects on the super-cool, joyful and adventurous funky groove “On the Road”. Roald Becher’s energetic drum beating is a combination of strong sense and technique. He could carry some songs in full power but other time he showed his artistry by using brush stick like in “Bangun Pemudi Pemuda”.
Polish’ trad “Cassubian Notes” is a song to listen if you want to find the harmonious free-flying cooperation between Dániel’s saxophone and Aga’s piano with Paul and Roald collective guard on the rhythm. Again it can be tasted in the swingin’ “Drive By”. A trace of classical waving piano pattern on “Prelude to Odds” and the power ticking “Intro to Odds” works nicely as a gate to enter the interesting unusual composition “Odds”. Other than piano, Aga also used synthesizers in some songs, including “Daddy’s Habit” where he showed it in various sound modulations. Aga’s tribute to his greatest hero McCoy Tyner served nicely in the bluesy-boppin’ “Blues for McCoy”. Other than the mystically twisted “Cublack Suweng” where Dániel ran his saxophone over the pentatonic scales in fast-repeating approach, the most amazing challenge appears in the ‘satire’ “Crowned Clown”. This mysteriously haunting song would answer the free-jazz and experimental listeners as they feels like a song made from another dimension.
The Brag Pack’s “Just Braggin'” really shows the amazing talent and wealth ideas of the members as well as reflects the excellence of execution. The album features challenging songs from start to finish that invites you into a wondrous journey of jazz and beyond with some reminiscence of the great things in the past and the sound of the future. With this kind of presentation, Paul Rutschka, Sri Hanuraga, Roald Becher and Dániel Mester as the members of the pack now should stand as jazz musicians the world should look for. For you who have adventurous soul, a die-hard jazz fan or even if you just want to hear the interesting world of jazz served in bold braveness and freedom, this album is definitely for you. Bon voyage.
The Brag Pack are:
Paul Rutschka (bass)
Sri Hanuraga (piano, synthesizers)
Roald Becher (drums)
Dániel Mester (alto and soprano saxophone)
On The Road
Bangun Pemudi Pemuda
Blues for McCoy
Prelude to Odds
Intro to Odds
Buy the album at Jazzuality’s Online Store (we also receive international buyers),