There a so many things one could describe when they think of Bali. The wonderful beach, forests, green paddy fields, temples, majestic view of sunset and sunrise, unique, mystical atmosphere, traditional dress, dancing, fine art and typical gamelan music, all would easily remind us of this world’s favorite holiday destination. But since three years ago, we are proud to see that jazz has been added into this list. That, as well as seeing Bali as a central of jazz (ultimate jazz destination) of Indonesia. It wouldn’t happen without AA. Anom Wijaya Darsana, Yuri Mahatma and the hard-working team who made the dream comes true. Since three years ago, Bali finally has its own annual jazz fest, the Ubud Village Jazz Festival. According to Yuri, this festival is not meant to be an another jazz festival, not massive festival with uncountable number of stages, not a ‘dance-till-you-drop’ kind of event, but rather, this is set to be a festival with character. Meaning, this festival has to be able to re-introduce the true face of jazz to people of Indonesia and to the world, as well as reminding us that jazz is not only about music or even art, but can also become a reliable tool to solve complex issues of life.
Last year this festival showed its strength in creation, variety and lineup. You can read our report of the 2014 edition here http://jazzuality.com/jazz-event-report/ubud-village-jazz-festival-2014-report-day-1/ and http://jazzuality.com/jazz-event-report/ubud-village-jazz-festival-2014-report-day-2/. So what did we get this year? In this 3rd Ubud Village Jazz Festival (UVJF), once again we got a pretty combination of international established and emerging international musicians and talented Indonesian resources, both from Bali and the capital. Since the festival cores itself to the community and cares of the regeneration of jazz musicians, for the second time UVJF associated with Jazz Summer School in South Korea to facilitate a world-class jazz camp, calling it Bali Jazz Summer School. As for the festival, it took place at Arma Ubud from 7th to 8th of August 2015. This is the report of Day 1.
The Underground Jazz Movement 1 was the first in action. This community has the mission to introduce jazz to young musicians, especially those who reside in Bali. They gather mostly on Sunday afternoon until night and fill it with open discussion, talk and even play jazz. Representing the community was a simple trio: Seto Aji (guitar), Fendy (bass) and Wisnu Priambodo (drum). They played traditional jazz neatly. Just three players, but sharp. They went boppin’ with tradings and improvisations included in every song. Each year we see the improvement, each year we enjoy their happy performance. If you are a musician living in Bali and wish to get close with jazz, all you have to do is come to their meetings. You can get a lot of information, knowledge, playing tips and many more regarding jazz. You’d know it simply by watching these boys. Fun opening it was.
The Yogyakarta’s proud big band officially opened the Giri Stage. Kirana Big Band began their journey when bassist Agung Prasetyo, turned into a conductor because of his awareness of the role. This band had appeared in major jazz events in Indonesia and we have covered them a couple of times before such as in previous set of Java Jazz Festival, ITB Big Band Concert and in Etawa Jazz Jogjakarta. Kirana Big Band can play swing standards but they do also play Indonesian and traditional songs which they smartly rearrange to fit the big band concept.
Standing in front was a young 13 year-old girl Lana. “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” nicely delivered. If you remember, there was Shelomita and Opustre Big Band’s rendition of “Payung Fantasi” some years ago, this time Lana reprised it with Kirana Big Band just as good. More songs coming, including “Spain” (Al Jarreau’s version), and a challenging free jazz song being executed well. Kirana Big Band successfully represented Jogjakarta’s fine jazz scene. It was really nice to have it here in Ubud.
Performing at Padi Stage was Nita Aartsen. This lady is famous for being an excellent pianist who bridge jazz, variety of Latins and Brazilian, and classical into her distinctive style. Off the stage, she gladly shares her expertise to her students and she is also active as a producer. Nita performs a lot outside Indonesia. This year seems like she’s having even busier schedule. The last time we met her was at the Java Jazz Festival 2015, then she graced more prestigious events from Jazz Gunung, Asean Multi Cultural Festival 2015 (at Chiang Mai, Thailand), a trip to Moskow and she also represented Indonesia at North Sea Jazz Festival 2015 in Rotterdam.
Now we met her again at this festival where she played as Nita Aartsen Trio. Joining her were Bali’s proud bassman Indra Gupta and kendang maestro Jalu G Praditina.They played wide by utilizing the combination of traditional eastern and modern western instruments, from Sundanese pattern, Batavian to variety of Latins/Brazilian. The song choice described Nita’s illustrious career too, playing songs like “Plaisir D’Amour”, “Jali-Jali”, “Fur Elise” and “So Danco Samba” (featuring Brandon Julio on guitar). For almost 30 years she has been romanced with music, spending time in between different corners and put them down inside her heart to make her own music style. This former state pianist (she was there for more than 10 years) has played with many players in different formations, whatever she delivers and with whoever she plays with are always pleasuring and entertaining. Oh yeah, one beautiful young girl from California named Riley also danced with hula-hoop during her show. What a scene.
Sylvain Gagnon drove us to mind-bending jazz at Subak Stage. He is Canadian but based in Hong Kong since the millenium. Gagnon started with accordion during his childhood, then moved to guitar and finally settled on bass. Speaking of bass, he plays contrabass and various bass guitars. And about his jazz encounters, it came from his amazement on the virtuosity and intellectual capability of jazz players.
There’s something unique of the way Gagnon view jazz. For many, jazz means freedom, daring to take risk and borderless explorations. But for Gagnon, since he studied to become an electronic engineer, he has different perspective of jazz, that jazz is mathematical and can be played with logical pragmatic mind. This unique approach can now be enjoyed through his latest album “Blue Moon” (released in December 2014), an album with many featured artists such as Paulo Levi Silveira Teixeira, Cameron Reid, pianist Yoyong Aquino and beautiful songstress Bianca Wu. A colorful jazz show from him, making the warm weather of Bali felt cooler. We love his song from “Blue Moon” titled “Migrating Bird”. Playing with him was Ubud Village Jazz Festival’s Astrid Sulaiman (piano), Gustu Brahmanta (drum) and Pramono Abdi Pamungkas (saxophone).
Back to Giri Stage. After Kirana Big Band, now it’s time to see Oran Etkin. He is a great reedman, composer and educator who always loves to make music from all over the world. For UVJF 2015, this Grammy Award winner presenting his latest work “Gathering Light”, an around the world musical trip which was inspired by his visit to many countries; from New Orleans USA, Israel, Japan, Europe, China to… Indonesia! Yes, one traditional Javanese songs “Gambang Suling” is included in the album.
For Ubud Village Jazz Festival he’s involved in the clinic and pre event just two days ago. For the main event he appeared with Fabian Almazan (piano) and Alvester C Garnett (drums) playing jazz in diversity ranging from ragtime, swing to bebop, to everything else he wishes actually. Jazz standards like “You’ve Changed” and “Why Don’t You Do Right” got new outfit from him. “Gambang Suling” became the last presentation where he demonstrated how great he could play pentatonic scaled still in his distinctively sensational free jazz approach.
There are many saxophone/clarinet players in the world, but Etkin’s way of playing brings something fresh to the jazz pallette. Either it’s a light smooth song or the upbeat, Etkin blows breath of life into them that creates magic. As the album gains more and more positive feedbacks from both critics and fans, Etkin brought this must-listen album to the land of Gods. Lucky for us, we didn’t have to go to the North Sea Jazz Festival 2015 to see him and this project because UVJF managed to bring him in. It was highly nutricious and pleasuring. Thank you.
Performing on the Padi Stage around 7:00 pm was Dodot & Co. The leader of this group, Dodot is a legendary pianist who can create magic whenever his fingers touch the keys. What’s cool is that like a wizard, he has his own way of playing which integrates both jazz and classical. There were moments when we felt the spirit of Thelonious Monk, at other times we sensed the boldness of Bill Evans. This is our first chance to see him play, and really, he exhibited melodic virtuosity with a fine sense of swing. His compatriotes did very well too in backing him up.
The first Underground Jazz Movement already done their service earlier. At 7:30 pm we got to see the Underground Jazz Movement 2. This second group strengthen the statement of how good jazz development and regeneration is in Bali today. Performing also in trio, Septian Lee (drum), Ade (keyboard) and Fendy (bass) took the straightahead lane and streamed freely for around 45 minutes. Another good round scored by this Bali’s proud jazz community.
When we moved to the other stage, we bumped into Nial Djuliarso Quartet. Nial is an excellent example of how an Indonesian artist can make a living in the origin country of jazz, USA. He has been pursuing his career there in New York, but he also does great in the Indonesian jazz scene. Imagine how he can maintain his position in two countries with over 16 thousands km apart. This man has studied from and played with many big cats in USA and gained valuable experiences throughout his career. Plus, he graduated from both Juilliard and Berklee College of Music. So, having him in this festival is important for many reasons. But even if you don’t care about that, his fluent jazz dialogues with three brilliant musicians including Robert Mulyarahardja (guitar), Kevin Yosua (bass) and Dezca Anugrah (drum) was really inspiring.
Joining the trio was Laura Brunner. There are so many great female jazz singers throughout the years, but we can never get tired of them, can we? There’s always room for more, especially if they have something special to offer. Laura Brunner has been mentioned as the modern-day Ella Fitzgerald, and yes, she earns that. This Berklee College of Music alumni has a clear, sexy voice with flawless pitch. She is indeed the master of scatsinging too. For the opening they played “Blues for Wilarene” and also sang Ella Fitzgerald’s song. The combination of mystical atmosphere of Bali with a challenging high energy and relaxing music from a lovely jazz nightingale and Nial Djuliarso Quartet, what a perfect combination, what an excellent treat. They were like swinging us to an ellegant, high class jazz club in NY.
It’s certainly a pleasure to be able to watch Gustu Brahmanta Project again. If usually any music that has Balinese traditional music would involve semi or large sized ensemble that includes gamelan orchestra, the format of four could bring the combination between western jazz and Balinese music just by a simple quartet format. Ida Bagus Putu Brahmanta (drums and percussion), Ida Bagus Indra Gupta (contrabass), Pramono Abdi Pamungkas (saxophone) and Subandi (rindik: an instrument made from bamboo with 11-13 keyed xylophones tuned to a fairly even tempered scale, gamelan) presented stunning mystical pentatonic pelog scale with jazz as the core.
In the hands of these amazing natives, the Balinese jazz has a new, innovative brand. The true sound of local wisdom with modern jazz approach means a show where people can enjoy, be entertained and learn from. Their audience were amazed and happy at the same time. For the first song they added one Balinese dancer which brought even more spirit both visual and audio. If you wonder how they sound or wish to hear them more, they have released an album titled “Putri Cening Ayu” which is available at our online store (http://store.jazzuality.com/product/gustu-brahmanta-trio-putri-cening-ayu/). For us, this group is the perfect portrait of having a jazz fest in Bali.
Last year we witnessed the come back of a Bali-based supergroup, Jiwa Band in this event. This time we got half of the personnels who have been friends with each other for so many years, bassist Ito Kurdhi and trumpeter Rio Sidik. The spontaneity on stage, their energy were just lovely to see. Their music was driven by each player, creating lovely jazz terrain for more than half an hour. A team up between skillful friends who have been sharing the chemistry for more than a decade simply created a flamable funky gig. Sandy Winarta (drums) and Kevin Suwandi (keyboard) gave big contribution to this act.
When we came to the Giri stage, the event advisor Dwiki Dharmawan was in the middle of playing his first song “Gunung Raung”, inspired by the recent terrible activity of Mount Raung. This man is a highly respected jazzman, but his heart is 100% Indonesia. If you combine these two spheres, you will find out that no matter what he plays, there’s always Indonesia in it. He is the man behind many jazz fests in Indonesia, he is also the man that has made Indonesia proud in Europe and USA. This year he teamed up with super musicians: his partner for 30 years Donny Suhendra (guitar), Adi Darmawan (bass) and Sandy Winarta (drums). More new songs including “Wild Dance” and “Pasar Klewer” which has lovely pentatonic scales. A fired-up performances, challenging and full of action made his show an ace. What a way to end the first day of this festival.
No less than eleven shows involving the national musicians, the internationals and local heroes were given on day 1. Our energy feels drained, but we are excited to see what to come on the 2nd and final day of Ubud Village Jazz Festival 2015. If you were there yesterday, you have to be there today, because there will be many, many more amazing jazz wizards waiting to put their spell on you. If you missed the Friday show, you still have one day left to be a part of the festival. For those who are not in Bali, don’t worry because we are going to tell you the highlight. Stay tuned for our 2nd day report, and hey, Bali jazz lovers, see you at Arma Ubud this afternoon.
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