One of the most fascinating things about jazz is its openess that makes it has a ‘habit’ to absorb the local music wherever it’s landed. That’s why you can find different sound of jazz from different part of the world. Imagine when jazz landed in Indonesia, a nation that has tens or even hundreds of thousands of different tribes, where each of them has their own specific traditional music. Imagine what jazz would do when encountering this situation. So many different hybrid of jazz would emerge, and the good thing about it is that there’s no end to it. You have heard ethnic jazz many times, yet there’s always something new. There are many still waiting to be discovered, there are still many possibilities to explore.
This month we dedicated the 62nd edition to celebrate the Independence Day of the Republic of Indonesia differently based on what we mentioned earlier. Yes, unlike before, we are bringing three bands or group who has the ethnic music streaming inside their veins. They all came from different places – from the upper west to the lower east (one is even from USA) – bringing a fusion between jazz and traditional musics from particular region.
We start with the mind-bending interpretation of gamelan music using modern, western instruments, courtesy of two mad ‘jugglers’. They are Indonesian Jason Limanjaya on keyboards and American Otto Stuparitz on bass. The group is simply named after theirs: JASON & OTTO.
Otto is American originally came from Los Angeles. But when it’s about gamelan and even the Indonesian music history, he understands it more than most of us. Through years of researching – probably much more than the amount he needed to finished his paper “Balinese Gamelan Pedagogies, Value and Time: The Co-Existence of Punctuated Time and Capitalism.” at the Ethnomusicology at the University of California – he masters not just the notes and melodies that shaped the gamelan music for ages, but also the platform, principal, philosophy and even pirit. As an academic he’s been digging this subject and interestingly connected it to his other background, a bassist.
Meeting Jason is pretty much a destiny. Jason is a young piano virtuoso who wowed us from the first time we met him, as a part of The New Equinox. He plays like none other. Never predictable, innovative and expressive, if the word bombastic feels to much. He rose fast soon after, from being with Nayra Dharma, establishing his own trio, achieving huge success with New Blood, making a couple of funk projects, then some duos, currently with Vidya in Rasa Karsa. One thing’s really interesting is that he’s been showing his passion in exploring the world of pentatonic for the past several years.
Jason told us that he’s been having ideas to play jazz with pelog for at least two years, but not until he met Otto, who is an expert in it he could finalizing it. We brought them in last month and stunned by the music they were presenting. They make two worlds – the ancient traditional from the east and modern western – collide, creating a new musical dimension where the combination of these totally different musics exists as one hybrid. It’s so realistic, that makes us feel that if jazz and blues were born in the island of Java or Bali instead of New Orleans, their music would be how it would sound.
Otto is currently in Indonesia to finish his Ph.D degree. We heard that he’s wrapping it up and will go back to LA for good. Of course we would love to have him and the duo as many times as possible while he’s still here. Lucky for us, this month we celebrate the Independence Day with the ethnic jazz fusion theme, naturally a perfect habitat for him and Jason.
Like two jugglers these dudes threw the notes nonstop, in pelog scale with high precision. Yes, they threw them all, but amazingly nothing’s wasted once so ever. It was in certain pace, they effortlessly made what once seemed impossible, possible. Look at how they began with “Bapang Selisir”, a straight-forward, steadily moving song that’s translated from the gamelan-based ancient Balinese musical form with unique scale/mode. Directly they lured people with their captivating music. Non-stop running, naturally pelog flowing inside the jazz veins. Thunderous applause were given to them in the end.
For the second song they brought in familiar tune especially for elders. It’s a Bing Slamet’s big hit from exactly 60 years ago, “Nulela”. Unlike the Bing Slamet’s version that has Malay-Minang feel or any other covers throughout decades, Jason and Otto made it as if the song was made fully with pelog scale, uniquely with still keeping the fun, playful nature of the original. These dudes made it so believable that many people would buy if we told them that that’s how it was made in first place. Had Bing Slamet still alive, we are sure he would love this version and gave props to these men.
Since they are in Bandung, how about injecting some Sundanese into their pallette? That’s what they did next. They called in Farell Uwa, a traditional flute player for their last song, a pelog twist of Sound of Music’s famous tune, “My Favorite Things”. Once again it takes a genius to change the atmosphere of this very well known song far more than anyone could ever dream of. Farell Uwa blended in marvelously, chewing all the crazy concept without any problem. From two to three, from transforming the gamelan music into keyboard-bass connection to having Sundanese added through the sound of bamboo flute, they forced us to add ‘omg’ in describing their version. Simply put, it was beyond believe.
Louis Armstrong once said, a jazz musician would never play anything the same way twice. Tonight Jason and Otto showed that jazzmanship. Eventhough they played the same songs, their spontaneous improvisation made each song appeared differently. We don’t know how many in the audience realized the magic of new sound they heard from Jason and Otto. Think of it. How often do you hear or see musicians playing jazz and blues by fully using pelog, with the spirit of open source – meaning that the song could progress everywhere and land just about anywhere.
This act had so many ground-breaking moments, presented really playful. They had their eyes connected, many times they kept teasing each other and the other times they built the song cohesively. The presence of Farell gave more color into their already vibrant These dudes has opened a new world by colliding two totally different dimension. It might look simple, but trust us, it’s far from that.
We dont know if we still have chance to bring them in again, but if we have, we would like to have them in one final chapter. As we have mentioned many times, in the wildest or weirdest dream, had jazz was originated not in USA but in Java or Bali, Jason and Otto’s music would define how it would sound perfectly. We never knew we would ever get the chance to hear it, thanks to these mad men, we had our wonder answered.
Lombok island provides one of the best surf spots in Indonesia, also a favorite destinations for those who are looking to spend their holidays, beach way. Just like other places, this island also has its own traditional music, which is still not yet exposed like the Javanese or Balinese. And of course, as far as we know, there was no band that play jazz fusion with the traditional music from this particular area. For the first time we featured the Lombok music fused with jazz, brought by originally swingin’ jazz guitarist Adya Amru. The name of his project is ADYA AMRU BOYAQ BASE.
Amru is a proud Lombok son who studied jazz guitar in Bandung with Mr. Venche Manuhutu at the VMS. We knew him first as the guitarist of pop jazz band Chakraborty, a band where he served for quite some times. In 2017 he told us that he would leave Bandung and go back to his main land, because he felt the calling to learn his own traditional music and exposed it to the world. He spent time there digging the music by visiting many traditional studios. It wasn’t easy, but later on he managed to get some supports.
From Amru the traditional music of Lombok is starting to be exposed. From him we hear that here are many kinds of traditional music of the Sasak tribe, from the old to new, that has to go against rejection from the chieftains. The first thing he learned is the root. Basically, the traditional music is rooted from other regions such as Java, Bali and Bugis, also from the Middle East, South India (Bangladesh) and the Turk Usmani from centuries ago. There are Gendang Beleq, Musik Cilokaq, Musik Kebangru’an, Tawaq Tawaq, Musik Tarian Rudat, Musik Tarian Sireh, Gamelan Sasak, Gamelan Wayang Sasak, the still-in-controversy Kecimol, just to mention a few.
About the music type, just like how the music from the other part of the world is, the scale holds a major role. Because of the influence from Java and Bali, the dominance of Pelog and Slendro is clearly felt. Pentatonic scale is found among the music. Other than that, the influence from the Middle Eastern music could also be noticed, such as minor harmonic. “What’s interesting, and important to mention is that the ‘sharpness’ of the tone here is not as exact as the western music that has the agreement for A musical note with the 440 Hz frequency, using the pattern from math logarhythm. As we all know, chromatic scale represents all notes in modern music with all the note from A to G.” Amru explained. “In Middle Eastern music, Kamal Musallam once told that there’s one tune that he called representing Arabian music, which lead the Ibanez to make a special guitar with such frets that enables him to have 13 tones. The same goes to Sasak music. There are tones that can’t be played by modern instruments no matter how hard you try to tune it, which makes me come to a conclusion that there are tones outside the chromatic scales that are existed in Sasak’s traditional music.”
Amru named his project BOYAQ BASE, which means ‘Language Searching’. We agree with him that music is a universal language, and that language has to be ‘spoken’ wide. Amru builds this project with 3 high skilled musicians from West Java Syndicate and Gita Bawana. They are Zahar Mustilaq (drum), Yopi D Nafis (keyboard) and Luqman Hertanto (bass).
Amru started just by two accompanied by Yopi, playing his composition called “AL Liwa'”. This smooth glorious beauty was inspired by Amru’s imagination on gamelan while playing guitar. According to him, the song is about longing for justice. Al Liwa’ means white flag where the Kalima Tauhid written on it.
Then Zahar and Luqman jumped in. It’s interesting to see Zahar’s drum set that got extra tom-toms and crash cymbals. Right after they appeared full team, they presented a song with a very unique beat unlike what we have ever heard before. The song is called “Irama Bangket”.
Amru wrote it inspired by the rhythm of Gilang Ramadhan’s project named “Rhythm Sawah”. FYI, the word “Irama Bangket” literally means the same too in Sasak Language. Amru found the song and noticed that the rhythm was actually identical with the one found in Sasak music. He got the confirmation from the elders too. So he asked permission from Gilang to adapt the rhythm and the song came into existance.
Zahar charmed us with his ability to capture the multi kendang party with his modified set of drums. Amru ran all around it with his Sasak-spoken jazz, working hand in hand with Yopi on keys. Luqman sounded his bass in such uncommon way. Together they created a jolly outburst that’s totally different than the music usually found on jazz stage. It was wicked!
For the third song they played “571 M”. This song commemorates the birth of Prophet Muhammad SAW. In other words, this song has another title, “Maulid Nabi Muhammad SAW”, said Amru. This is an epic song that’s written with full of gratitude. Grand, glorious yet adventurous at the same time. Should be really challenging to play since it’s far from easy, but it’s not hard to listen too at all. This song will be available in the upcoming Jazzuality compilation album which is still in the making process. We can’t express enough how much we appreciate this song being picked by Amru to be in it.
Amru still got one last party. As the final song he presented “Oncer”, an original composition of Sasak tribe, made from “Gendang Beleq” style. In Lombok, this song is often played in the welcoming ceremony, and also believed to adress the soldiers to go to war in the old days. Today this music is used to be the mandatory song whenever there is “Gendang Beleq” competitions (in Sasak language: “Sekahe”). once again we saw the transmission of kendang to drums, which came to reality by Zahar’s amazing skill. Then, as if it’s not enough, look at Luqman who used his bass to bring the gong sounds. Spectacular and inspiring, pushing us to the edge from start to finish.
We always eager to discover the traditional musics from more and more places in Indonesia, because we realize we have hundreds of thousands of different tribes spreading across the archipelago. Lombok island is one of the place we hadn’t discovered just yet, and from Adya Amru finally we could listen to the beauty of it, not just the sound, the melody and captivating rhythm, but the historical and social aspects of it. Amru has made some singles involving this music from his own land, that’s great. But what’s cool is that he’s not over yet. He is still continuing his research out there. We hope to bring him again whenever possible so we can find out more about the music of Lombok island and its connection with jazz.
For the final act we invited back the great band that’s also ground-breaking. If the first was from the Java island then we continued further to the east reaching Lombok, now we went far west and up, until we found the West Sumatra province, the land of Minangkabau tribe. The Minang music has a distinctive sound and familiar to Indonesian, actually it was became the trend a few decades back. But when it comes to jazz, it’s still extremely rare, at least in term of being exposed to public. We didn’t realize that we could meet a band that does that right here in Bandung. When we met the band introduced by Zahar, we were excited to introduce them and their creativity to everyone. Led by woodwind maestro originally from the Payakumbuh city, Maspon Herizal, here’s PALANTA LINE ART.
The Minang music is different than the traditional Javanese. The music from this part of Sumatra is built upon the diatonic scale, has a typical beat and equipped with many traditional instruments. Palanta Line Art uses these aspects in playing music. They are good in doing it traditionally, but they are surprisingly great when twisting it in jazz fusion. They can bring the traditional into the contemporary music, they can play jazz songs using the traditional instruments. Established in July 2012 by traditional Minangkabau woodwinds virtuoso Maspon Herizal. the band clearly has the passion to explore wide and try new stuffs, like jazz and beyond, amazingly without losing their grip on the traditional Minangkabau music at all.
Different than the previous formation that we are familiar with, this time Maspon new formation with more instruments involved. Other than Maspon Herizal (traditional woodwinds), there are Arts Fiaris (guitar), Yopi D Nafis (keys), Kiki Septian and Gempur (talempong), Edy (bass), Frahma (violin) and Zahar Mustilaq (drum). They are ready to bring the contemporary style of traditional music by fusing the Minang music and jazz.
Just as we let them sail, they surprised everyone by playing Chick Corea’s masterpiece, “Spain”. Those who just knew this band didn’t expect the kind of song coming from an ensemble with traditional instruments like talempong or bamboo woodwinds, they gave loud applause with wowed expression painted on their faces. They did fine tutti, which wasn’t easy since there were traditional flute, two sets of talempong besides the modern instruments being involved in it. Zahar gave provoking Minang beat that pushed everyone to the edge of their seats. We have seen them playing this marvelously, but now with the young lady Frahma added the violin tunes in it (by the way she plays really, really well), Palanta Line Art’s version sounds even much better. Big round applause once again was awarded to the band in the end.
Next Maspon led the ensemble to play a medley of old Melayu-Minang songs including “Babendi-bendi” and “Sansaro”. Smooth sailing ballad tunes sounded dreamy and mesmerizing yet infectious. So infectious, that one couple in the audience couldn’t help themselves not to dance. They started dancing on the right side of the stage, then we brought them towards the front. The music and dancing? What’s not to be loved from that. The audience agreed as they cheered the beautiful moment happening in front of them.
The song we consider a masterpiece from Palanta Line Art became the final song. It’s “Andalas Raya”, a song that offers a musical voyage through the beautiful valleys and hills of West Sumatra. This song is truly epic. It began with pure Minang traditional music courtesy of saluang played by Maspon, calm like preparing us to fly, then they took our mind flew like watching the magnificent landscapic nature of the province. Interestingly, in the middle they suddenly gone swinging without losing the grip on Minang traditional music once so ever. A true masterpiece brought in spectacular treatment that sealed this edition triumphantly.
The new formation proved to bring better formula for the Minang’s spicy jazz fusion. It feels fresh without missing all the winning ingredients this band had before. For us Palanta Line Art always stand as a ground-breaking band that knows how to bring the mesmerizing beauty of Minangkabau ethnic music into the modern world. The combination of ancient, traditional instruments combine with modern, western ones, having jazz served with diatonic turned chromatic tools, the eye-cachy stage presence, all serve landscapic musical voyage that only Palanta Line Art can give. We sure hope to be able to bring them in again in the future. And we do hope the band to keep running, for what they do is important.
Since we still had a little time left, we opened up the jam session. Participating in it were Erick Gabe (vocal), Joe Bastian (bass), Adya Amru (guitar), Gempur Sentosa (talempong), Yopi D Nafis (keyboard) and Zahar Mustilaq (drum). To fit the theme, they chose “Indonesia Pusaka” presented in never-before-done version. Why not? First of all, talempong was there, which gave such unique sound. Then Zahar did it using Minang beat. Erick went rockin’ and rollin’ with his voice. The audience who were still there watching the jam gave them big applause in the end.
Presenting the beauty and richness of Indonesian ethnic musics to celebrate Indonesia’s 74th freedom declaration aka independence day hopefully will remind eveeryone of how wonderful our nation really is. Also giving up strong statement of the openess of jazz in welcoming just about any form of music to blend within. We thank all bands to make this special edition appeared grand, thanks to all supporters and certainly the audience. We will be back again in September with another batch of artists. Make sure you won’t miss it. Dirgahayu RI, long live, be prosperous, may we all always be united in harmony.
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Reporter & Photographer: Riandy Kurniawan .