If a big band ‘dares’ to hold two regular events every year for about a decade, that big band should have quite a reputation. Since it involves plenty of players, the preparation should never be easy. So if one manages to do that kind of effort, they should be something. Bandung should be proud to have such big band. The name is Salamander Big Band.
The Salamander Big Band was founded on September 17, 2006 at Bumi Sangkuriang Bandung by Devy Ferdianto. It started by utilizing young jazz talents from Bandung and very well kept with continuous regeneration process. They have even had the junior big band consisting of all young players since 2010. They have entertained us jazz-gulpers for 11 years, offering us a chance to experience the real swingin’ sensation as if we were there in the glorious ballroom around 80 years ago.
Yes, they are capable to bring the authentic sound from that golden era back again at present time. Not only they adopt the formation of Cole Porter or Duke Ellington and the likes, they preserve the sound and feelings too. But what you have to know is that they often take us visiting later eras. This big band is also capable to bring the sound of 60’s to more modern eras up to this day, even know how to funk and rock hard. They can capture the American jazz but also great in presenting the European scene. When needed, they can embrace the traditional (ethnic) music to fit the big band concept.
The harmonious collision of brasses and rhythm section from them are indiscribable. Talk about the harmony of brass section consisting of saxophones, trumpets, trombones along with guitar, keyboards, bass, drums and percussions – can you imagine? A musical instrument of more than 20 parts which if played in harmony creates a sound that’ll turn everyone’s ears to the source of it, especially when it’s presented by a big band as good as this. The fact that the Salamander Big Band is blessed with amazing lines of vocals make them shine even brighter. A singing pianist Imelda Rosalin, the crooner Gail Satiawaki, the Diane Schuur of Indonesia Nenden Shintawati and the vocal harmony group Salamander Voices consisting of Lia Amalia Ramdhan, Sekar Teja Inten, Devi Remondi and Addi Sigera are the force that complete their power.
The Salamander Big Band held the 2017 Mid Year Concert on July 13, 2017 at the artistic, monumental amphitheatre of Selasar Sunaryo Art Space located at the upper side of Bandung. Other than developing fine arts and performances through selective programs, the Selasar Sunaryo Art Space (SSAS) has been showing its support towards the music development, especially jazz. One of the fruits is a program called JazzSphere @ Art Space in cooperation with many performers and jazz musicians both local and international. Do note that this is not the first time for Salamander Big Band to perform here. They have done it a couple of times for example in 2012 (featuring Iwan Abdie: http://jazzuality.com/jazz-event-report/jazzsphereartspace-salamander-big-band-mid-year-concert-2012-buble-night/) and 2013 (http://jazzuality.com/jazz-events/salamander-big-band-mid-year-concert-2013-love-above-all/). This year SSAS is proud to be the host again for the big band’s Mid Year Concert. And for us, watching theim performing inside the amphitheatre of Selasar Sunaryo always gives a different feeling. It’s certainly magic to see their soul blends with the mystical atmosphere of the venue.
For this concert, the Salamander Big Band featured a very well-respected pianist/composer/arranger and music director who has produced so many great pianists and musicians: Imam Pras. Imam Praseno, that’s his real name has started his professional career since the early 80’s. He was a proud member of Combo ’83, Wachdach Band and Patria, also Bambang Nugroho and Friends, and many projects in various formats. His quartet was included in the legendary album “Jazz Masa Kini” released in 2006. Not long after that unfortunately he suffered vascular hand injury around 2006 which forced him to decreased his career as an active musician drastically. But since a couple of years ago his hand has been getting better, which allowed him to occasionally re-appeared again on the surface. Joining the Salamander Big Band was only about a matter of time, which finally happened in this Mid Year concert.
With Imam Pras on board, the composition of rhythm section expanded uniquely. How often do you see a big band with three keyboards? Before Imam Pras joined in, Salamander Big Band already equipped themselves with two, Imelda Rosalin and Rika Andriyani. These two ladies do each of their part superbly and never collides once so ever. Imam Pras added more color, making the music even richer. They all have their own moment to shine. Thus, the connection between keyboardists is one of the highlights for us. The bassist Roy Bimantoro played both electric and double bass depending on the song. Then the drum works of Augustinus and percussions by Adya Dhivara as usual locked the whole sound in solid rhythm. The brass section which usually serve in front painted a full-rounded sound. Add lines of magnificent vocalists, this concert shone every second, even brighter than the moon above them.
This time the concert wasn’t free. Yet, Salamander Big Band managed to keep the number of attendance like the previous concerts. We still remember the last time they held the concert here they could drag no less than 600 people to watch them, this time it appeared they got around the same, if not more. And just like before, the audience were dominated by youngsters. That’s an amazing scene to see in a traditional big band in a country where jazz wasn’t originated in.
This time they gave tribute to the ageless living legend Titiek Puspa as the center of the theme. Titiek Puspa is an Indonesian singer, songwriter, entertainer, operette director and actress whose career spans for more than 60 years and still counting. She has written hundreds of songs, many of them stand as evergreen and are still sung until now. In 2009 she was diagnosed with cervical cancer, but after several months of treatment, she was declared free of it. Today she is still active in good health. “We have been wanting to do this for quite some times, now we finally did.” said Devy. No less than 6 golden hits of Titiek Puspa were played in this Mid Year concert.
The concert began shortly after 7:30 pm. After a very short opening speech by the owner of the place, a senior contemporary artist Mr Sunaryo, the Salamander Big Band directly took us into the majestic swing mood with one of Sonny Rollins’ greatest hits (beside “St Thomas” and “Oleo”) which says Nigeria but spelled backwards, “Airegin”. Not an easy one to play, but they nailed it well. The guest star Imam Pras was already there joining them from the start.
The founder/conductor Devy Salamander then greeted everyone and called the Salamander Voices in. This vocal harmony group first appeared in Salamander’s 7th Anniversary Concert back in 4 years ago. Now they are standing tall as one of the lethal force of Salamander Big Band. They were kind of switched the mood by presenting much modern groovy track covering Incognito’s “Pieces of A Dream”. Donny Koeswinarno who especially came from Jakarta to join the big band did a cool solo run with his sax.
The man with clear, bright crooning voice Gail Satiawaki came in to sing Titiek Puspa’s song from 1978 made especially for a movie with same title, “Gadis”. Interestingly, they kept the old school pop rockin’ mood for this one in which guitarist Bramania had fun streaming his solo run.
The singing pianist (also a standout architect) Imelda Rosalin got her turn, singing another gem from Titiek Puspa, “Bimbi”. Imelda said that this song was sent to Japan and stands as one of their most favorite repertoires. As this is an evergreen, we saw many audience sang and hummed it along with Imelda. One of two ladies from Salamander Voices, Lia Amalia Ramdhan was next, singing a song popularized by Cannonball Adderley and also Carmen McRae, “If You Never Fall in Love With Me (Del Sasser)”. It’s certainly lovely to hear a standard that’s not often selected by musicians and singers anymore today. Lia Amalia did it great.
The blind lady with fantastic voice which always reminds us of Diane Schuur, Nenden Syintawati took over the center stage. Wearing white gown she sang another classic written by Surni Warkiman for Titiek Puspa circa 1962 titled “Esok Malam Kan Kujelang.” Her powerful voice breathed soul into this gem.
Then we were entertained again by the wonderful Salamander Voices, this time pinning cute, sweet song again from Titiek Puspa, “Jatuh Cinta”. It’s not often to hear this song brought by vocal harmony group, the Salamander Voices and the big band proved it perfectly works. Then the first session ended with Imelda Rosalin singing “Volare”. Unlike most of the versions we have heard, this time they redressed it into relax swing. Eventhough this song was short, it was more than enough to make the audience patiently wanting for more.
After 20 minutes break, the Salamander Big Band took their position again and put us all in the passenger’s seats with Duke Ellington’s ‘eternal’ hit “Take the ‘A’ Train”. A great opening for the second round continued on with Salamander Voices sang Stevie Wonder’s song from Motown era, “My Cherie Amour”. Like the rest of the songs, this one was beautifully made into big band arrangements and executed very well by them.
The Diane Schuur of Indonesia, Nenden Syintawati was back singing the song which they arranged especially for her upon request, Barbra Streisand’s “People”. It gave us wonderful feeling to see Nenden poured her heart out to sing this deep Broadway Musical ballad, keeping all the beauty essence in their own way.
If you remember, there’s a movie titled “Down With Love” in 2003 starring Ewan McGregor and Renée Zellweger. There’s a beautiful duet in the soundtrack sung by Michael Bublé and Holly Palmer with the same title and it became a big hit. Actually this song was written way before that in 1937, but this duet is what we have in mind when the Salamander Big Band put Gail and Imelda in front to sing it. They effortlessly delivered the song in cheerful and sweet mode.
In case you don’t know, one of the Salamander Voices, the youngest of them all named Sekar Teja Inten was the runner up of The Voice Indonesia season 2 in 2016. She was also the finalist of NEZacademy 3 years earlier. Many of you probably notice her too as one of Tulus’ backing vocalists. This time she got the chance to stand in front taking on the song she sang at the grand final of The Voice, Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind”. What a way to make it into a big band! As much as we love the version in The Voice, this swingin’ blues big band version made the song appear soulfully grand and ellegant. Inten’s powerful soul vocal is spectacular, this song was like made for her. Dicky Ampouw got his turn to run his solo part in this song.
Then Devy Ferdianto took us back way back to the roaring 20’s or 30’s era where ragtime was still clearly felt after the world got into swing. No, they didn’t take any standards from those years, instead they made a cute rearrangement of Titiek Puspa’s “Rindu Setengah Mati” which resonated the jolly ragtime. Lia Amalia Ramdhan was the one who’s in charge, and just like before, she did it great.
The singing pianist Imelda Rosalin was back again in front with George/Ira Gershwin’s masterpiece, “S’Wonderful”. This is one of Imelda’s favorite picks which actually suits her voice and cheerful personality perfectly. As much as we loved the presentation, we came to the end of the concert. Gail and Salamander Voices stood in front with one last swingin’ party, taking a song popularized by Frank Sinatra, “That’s Life”. Loud cheers and applause were given to them. Some even gave standing ovations in full admiration.
It was supposed to be the end, but the audience still asking for more. Not wanting to dissapoint them, Devy led the Salamander Big Band for an encore, a classic from Titiek Puspa’s later hit in the 80’s, “Apanya Dong”. This song served a rock n’ roll party with smiling faces captured all around, from the players to the audience. With this song, the concert reached the end.
In the midst of electro-oriented music, it’s certainly refreshing to hear the harmony of multi instruments from a big band, especially when it’s as good as this. The unique ambience found in the amphitheatre of Selasar Sunaryo created something different when collides with the traditional swing spirit brought by the authentic sound of big band, the feeling we still remember from 2012 and 2013 when Salamander Big Band performed as a part of Jazzsphere@Artspace. We are lucky to be able to feel that again.
Great selection of songs, beautiful tribute to the ageless living legend Titiek Puspa, lovely arrangement, neat execution by these skillful players and of course the finesse line of voices the big band really hit the spot. It’s like riding the time tunnel going through the multi eras from 30’s to 80’s, enjoying every scene not in the ballroom but under the moon inside a mystical space of an amphitheatre. We can say that actually an amphitheatre like this is ideal for musical performances including, or maybe especially big band. It surely gives a different sensation we normally don’t find in other places.
We expect the 11th Anniversary Concert of Salamander Big Band will come some times in November, so we can have our mind and imagination blown away again by them. Realizing that we are living in a country where jazz was not originated, isn’t the current trend, yet we could have a show like this brought by a world-caliber big band based in Bandung, it’s indeed a blessing. Congratulations for another beautiful concert, Salamander Big Band! We salute you. Keep up the awesomeness!
Salamander Big Band
Mid Year Concert 2017
1. Dicky Ampouw (alto)
2. Joseph Sinaga (alto)
3. Donny Koeswinarno (tenor)
4. Erik N. Chandra (tenor)
5. Bonny Buntoro (baritone)
1. Oki Dirgualam
2. Andri Hadiyono
3. Ujung Sitorus
4. Diana Saralely
1. Andriyanto Haryanto
2. Agus Suherman
3. Afdhal Zickri
4. Recky Darmawan
5. Arief Budhiyana
1. Imelda Rosalin (Keyboard/vocal)
2. Rika Andriyani (Keyboard)
3. Bramania (Guitar)
4. Roy Bimantoro (Bass)
5. Augustinus (Drums)
6. Adya Dhivara (Percussion)
1. Nenden Syintawati
2. Gail Satiawaki
3. Amalia Ramdhan
4. Sekar Teja Inten
5. Devi Remondi
6. Addi Sigera
Imam Praseno (Imam Pras)
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Reporter & Photographer: Riandy Kurniawan