A mad gang with their like-none-other cross-Sundanese ethno progressive jazz fusion, a unique duo combining guitar and flute, and surprise, surprise, there will be a native New Yorker who was once a journalist and a martial art,Ju Jitsu expert who has served as the instructor for many years. Pretty unique lineup, don’t you think? That’s exactly what the BRAGA JAZZ NIGHT #53 got. Aside from the unique participants, what they brought were interesting too, where one could get or even learn something from what they’re cooking.
We started with the duo whose format are rare to find on the jazz stage. It’s a slice of an ethnic fusion group Lalakon, consisting of its guitar player Rian Rastian and bamboo flute/woodwinds player Sandy ‘Acil’ Prayoga. The duo is called DUO WEDAL SENEN (W.D.S).
This duo is not new since the embrio was already existed about 2 years ago. Plus as mentioned, both players are together in an ethnic fusion band Lalakon. But they found a strong core just a couple months ago which enables them to have good sail. We heard about them when they played in Klab Jazz’s Jazz Day, and knew that we really got to feature a duo with unique blend of instruments like this.
Speaking of unique, imagine the ‘surreal’ sound of Sundanese music and jazz coming out from the combination of just flute and guitar. You might find both instruments inside a band, but a duo using just these is really rare.
The beauty of their work poured down directly from their first song, an Earl Klugh’s classic “Wishful Thinking”. This smooth, relaxing tune is perfect to be delivered using just guitar and flute alone. “The good thing about instrumental songs is that the listeners can have their own interpretation according to the mood they feel when they listen to it.” said Rian.
The tranquility of their tune became even more evident when they played their original titled “Pasosore”, picturing the calmness of peaceful afternoon. In this second song Acil demonstrated his skill in playing variety of traditional flutes. Many of these flutes are new to us, meaning we haven’t seen them before. Each of them produces different sound that creates rich, colorful texture on the song along with Rian’s dynamic guitar playing.
On the third choice Rian and Acil took Romeo and Juliet’s theme, “A Time For Us”. This song appeared unique since it was built upon world music, resonating the music of Indian tribe, using once again different kind of flutes, ranging from the smallest one which looks like a clam to the flute with the shape similiar to the one used to charm cobras. This classic Harry Mancini’s piece appeared in the whole new style on Duo Wedal Senen’s arrangement.
For the last song Rian and Acil played their other original titled “Egrang”. Egrang is a traditional game mostly played by children which is nearly extinct. It’s made from sticks gaff wood or bamboo with standings that can make one walk above the ground. Rian told the audience that they hope this old game can survive the test of time. “There are so many new games, but Egrang is still a cool game, I hope the kids will keep on playing it,” he said.
Did they play good? No doubt. Do they share chemistry? Yes. Does it work? Indeed it does. Duo Wedal Senen opens up new musical horizon through their compositions, showing that Sundanese jazz fusion can be built straight and tall by using jazz guitar and flute. It sounds nice, of course. But what’s also important is that what they do is important. On one hand, they are preserving the traditional music, bringing it to meet today’s modern, contemporary scene, thus could attract non traditional music listeners. But on the other hand, they remind us that there are still so many possibilities in making and playing music, including jazz, if we are creative and dare enough to explore. D.W.S is different, fun and cool. May there will be more innovative creations come from them.
Sometimes the universe could bring people to meet out of nowhere, and something good then come out of it. We met a foreigner by chance. He is Chris Alexander, long time Jiu-Jitsu master, trained by the initiators of UFC and has served as the instructor of US Military in Gracie Jiu Jitsu. Just based on that, you wouldn’t want to mess with him. But no, this man is far from scary. He is really friendly, smiley and love to talk about many things. He is also a former journalist and broadcaster, someone who believe that we can achieve greater things if we work together.
What’s surprising is that all those things are not the only talents he got, because we later found out that he’s also gifted in music. Other than able to play various instruments including drum (the first instrument he learnt), piano and guitar, he told us that he has wrote no less than 300 songs and still counting. The songs are made in variety of genre, ranging from rock, blues, country, folk, pop, groove, jazz and everything in between. What surprise us more is that he hasn’t brought any of those in live performance. We think community stage is a good and safe place for him to start. He is Chris Alexander. We introduced some young musicians to him, and a group was formed in no time. Let’s call it a project, he named it INDO FUSION JAMBOREE as a way for him to introduce his music as a blend of styles, informal ho-down old fashion common people celebration that holds a local national identity of where it’s built.
In this Indo Fusion Jamboree he shares the happiness with some local resources. They are Zahar Mustilaq (drum), Andreas Bastian and Jerry Gates (guitar) and Hanzel Tarigan (bass). It would be hard to pick just a few from 300++ of his songs, but he managed to pick those who suits the jazz stage and his band-mates.
Chris led the band to sail directly not long after they took their position on stage. The first song was “Right About Now”. In this song, Chris slowly built the momentum by adding more and more intensity in each turn. They kept circling back the melody with some more dynamics until they reached the peak where Jerry roared wild rockin’ with his guitar. It was a fine start that made them gain great number of crowds.
Using three guitars in a band worked well for them. Other than Chris himself standing tall in front singing and playing guitar, Jerry and Bastian worked cohesively in bringing lots of surprises. They changed role seamlessly, and Jerry’s effects added richer texture in their music.
“This is the song for you who are looking for a job”, said Chris before he started the next song, “Snag A Job”. In this song Chris demonstrated his funny side and ability to tell a story through music and lyrics. It was built upon the classic cheerful American pop rock the way Bruce Springsteen did back then. If you are still haven’t found the job, stop thinking too much but just snag any job. That’s more or less what Chris wanted to say, but in a funny story telling way.
For the third song he sang the latest one he wrote titled “I’m All In”, telling a story of love life, that, despite of the uncertainty in te future, as the reality says there will be good and bad times in any relationship, he’s ready to go all in. Interestingly, as the term “I’m all in” is commonly used in card playing especially poker, he connected the loveship with playing poker. This one has a really cool groove in pop jazz-mosphere which became the most relevant song to be played on this event.
The final presentation was “Grand Life Adventure”, served in fresh country pop which is perfect in resonating the adventurous life of a man. This song for us is an epic. Not only for its progressive mode but also the way all players poured every drop of energy they had left inside them.
Chris Alexander is a Jiu-Jitsu instructor. He is a former journalist and broadcaster. All true. But he’s also a very talented musician. If being a martial art expert makes him a tough man, the other side of him shows funny and romantic personality, all wrapped inside his friendly and humble nature. The compatriotes he has in Indo Fusion Jamboree did great in building up his songs. Not only we enjoy his ear-cathy tunes, we also love the way Chris and his fellows took us into their little party from the stage.
It wouldn’t be a surprise for you if you see a Jiu-Jitsu expert went inside the octagon or above the mat because you thought that’s the perfect habitat for him, but when we have someone this caliber on music stage sharing his tender and romantic side, that’s another different story. For a debut, Chris’ performance is more than we expected. We are just glad to be able to bring this side of Chris, we feel happy to accomodate the birth of Indo Fusion Jamboree, and we surely hope to see them back again.
For the final session we welcomed back a mad gang serving a distinctive music concept: The WEST JAVA SYNDICATE. This band consists of dear friends, especially the drummer Zahar Mustilaq who has been a great help to us and this event by providing the drum and keyboard in every edition for the last two years. This band is also very special for us because we have seen their first appearance 8 years ago and still in touch with us until this very moment. Other than Zahar, the members are Dede SP (bass), Yopi D Nafis (keys), Ipin Zbet (kendang) and Randy Gevenk (variety of traditional Sundanese woodwinds/humming and karinding: a traditional instrument made of bamboo and midribs of palm trees).
The West Java Syndicate uses a different approach in creating a multi-dimensional cross Sundanese-ethno progressive soundscape. This band has both drum and kendang (the double-headed drum) in it that creates simultaneously cohesive beat as if it comes from one soul. It’s not easy because both drum and kendang have their own style and pattern, but Zahar and Ipin know how to fuse it perfectly. Then, Yopi Nafis on piano brings the beautiful melody in natural mixture between jazz, classical and traditional. Dede SP serves provocative bass playing with rockin’ approach. Last but not least, Randy Gevenk has a substantial part in making their sound mystical. This young man is a wiz of traditional woodwinds. He plays Sundanese trumpet, flute and karinding, also a master of some traditional Chinese woodwinds and anytime he uses his vocal to do a high pitch humming, he adds a deep mystical nuance.
Last year in August they launched their first full album titled “Bubuka” (in English: “The Opening”) following an EP released independently a few years earlier, “Album Leutik” (in English: “Small Album”).
In this appearance, unfortunately Ipin couldn’t come because he was still in Bogor. But since the West Java Syndicate is a great band, the rest of the players could maximize their performance that would make anyone watching don’t feel that they are missing something.
Look at the way they opened their act with the title track of the album, “Bubuka”. Even without the sound of kendang that usually characterized the song, they covered the loss with no problem. As Zahar was busy in doing all the beat, this song directly gave a clear portrait of what this band and what their music is all about. The bamboo flute and karinding sound from Gevenk was simply irresistible. And of course, his high-pitched humming built even more dramatic spirit.
The glittery, bright “City of Light” followed right after. It’s written by YD Nafis and Randy Gevenk instantly at the studio during the recording session. You could feel as if you were watching a bright light, big city from above when listening it it.
Next the West Java Syndicate played the song written by Nafis to propose his wife back then: “Tembang Katresna” (“Love Song”). This song has such sweet, sentimental prelude that leadsto the rest of the players gave significant and harmonious contribution until it reaches its peak, amazingly without losing the romantic grip even for a moment.
The song written to pay respect to the late Riza Arshad followed right after. The title is “Like Brother Like Teacher”. This song is mainly built by using just piano and bamboo flute, capturing the strong Indonesian spirit of Riza Arshad the way he did for two decades with his band simakDialog. During this sentimental song, Dede SP recorded his fellas playing by using his GoPro. A musician documenting his own performance on stage? That created such a different scene.
Zahar took some moment to introduce his band mates and thanked the audience. “Enough talking, we are going to end this performance with our’noisiest’ tune!” he said before rushing back to his Nebulae drumset. For those who are following this band, they would know that Zahar was refering to their most wicked composition written by Zahar titled “Gending Rame Ku Kendang” aka “GRKK”. We call the song wicked because this song contains nonstop, full-throttle action. It’s playful, yet intense, complex rhythm yet easy to love, the kind of song that would only work if a band has skill, speed and chemistry altogether. They played this song with attractive stage act too. Zahar went on teasing the other players while locking everyone like he’s behind the master control, Yopi’s tranced piano playing, Gevenk’s blazing tarumpet sound and Dede SP’s burning rockin’ performance and some cool pose with his bass guitar, all made a fantastic climax.
The woodwinds player Randy has been spending his life for some years in China. He went there to study, and now after he graduated, he is going to permanently move there with a new role as a lecturer. Because of that, he won’t be able to serve as the member of the band any longer. Quite unfortunate because he is a solid, creative player who shares strong chemistry with the rest of the thugs, but we understand his decision and wish him the best of luck. Now, what about the band? Of course, with or without Randy the band has to carry on. It has to, since it offers a different color that can enrich our jazz scene for years to come. According to Zahar, they have found a great player to take over Randy’s post, a man that they believe truly will carry the awesomeness of Randy or even to achieve more than they ever did. That’s a great news for us, and just like to Randy, we also wish West Java Syndicate the best of luck. This band is different, their braveness of exploring music is extraordinary, we are surely looking forward to have more great things come from them.
Another very interesting edition is done for the episode 53 of Braga Jazz Night. We thank all the performers, partners, supporters, soundman, and especially the audience for making this edition a success. As we are approaching December, we are preparing the jolly, merry Christmas Edition for the next stop. We will let you know more, stay tuned to our social medias and website for the updates. It would be impossible for us to do this alone, but with your support, together we can push the regeneration much forward and help the young musicians to do their callings. See you again in December! For those who celebrates, have an early, Merry Christmas!
Watch the highlights of Braga Jazz Night #53
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Reporter and photographer: Riandy Kurniawan .