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(73:58 / Moonjune Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. One Has to Be 13:34 2. Spur On the Moment 13:02 3. Kemarru 11:07 4. Worthseeing 16:22 5. Kain Sigli 19:49 LINEUP: Riza Arshad - ac. & el. pianos, synthesizer Tohpati Ario Hutomo - el. & ac. guitars Adhitya Pratama - el. fretless bass Endang Ramdan - Sunda-kendang With: Emy Tata - Makassar-kendang; vocals Nyak Ina Raseuki - vocals
Prolusion. SIMAK DIALOG hail from Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia located on the long-suffering island of Java, land of volcano, tornado and other cataclysms. Formed in 1993 by keyboardist Riza Arshad and guitarist Tohpati Ario Hutomo (both being its only permanent members), the group have four outings to date, namely "Lukasan" (1995), "Baur" (1999), "Trance / Mission" (2003, voted the best Jazz / Contemporary Jazz album in their motherland) and "Patahan" (2007), which was recorded live on April 16, 2005. As flatly standard in construction as anything at MySpace, with a lot of errors in the page's construction as usual, Simak Dialog's official website looks like a flashy congratulatory card. In short, it was originally a hard job to find any info there on any of the ensemble's releases. Well, this is my first encounter with their work, so I'm not too bothered that it's impossible to learn whether this CD consists of new compositions or is a set of remakes of older tracks. PS:-) I've just learned this is their brand new album.
Analysis. When listening to "Patahan" I recalled one more detail from the band's short bio: they had a real drummer at first, but later on, say, refused the drum kit in favor of congas. Oh yes, the two exotic instruments that you can see in the lineup above, Sunda-kendang and Makassar-kendang, are both nothing other than hand drums. Still being very much impressed by Discus (Simak Dialog's countrymen), I'd expected to hear a lot of Indonesian music's influences on this particular discus too. In fact however, only the last track here is really rich in those, whilst otherwise the congas turn out to be the only exotic-sounding instruments. To give you a more intimate idea of Simak Dialog's work, I feel I must pursue my favorite subject, i.e. proceed from the album's stylistic perspective. At least basically, most of the music refers to Western culture, Jazz Rock to be more precise, but since the hand drums take part in the building of sonic architectures everywhere on the disc, always imparting some ethnic colorations to stuff, the term of World Music is quite suitable too, though, as hinted above, there are in most cases only elements of that style on "Patahan". You'll see the five tracks here range from eleven to twenty minutes in length, but let me assure you that only the opening one, One Has to Be, seems to be somewhat overextended. The piece begins and unfolds as a trio of acoustic piano, bass and congas, a beautiful, yet instantly accessible music bringing to mind that floating Jazz Ambient which has been one of the calling cards of ECM Records since the mid-seventies. The track's second half is dominated by electric guitar, but while the music gets denser and more dynamic there, it's always slightly reminiscent of Norway's Terje Ripdal, a resident of the same ECM label for sure. Each of the next tracks is more intricate (which is synonymous with "better" in my comprehension) than its predecessor, but if you're into music that's both deep and structured, you have to arm yourself with patience and get over one more track to be fully rewarded. The piece that follows the opener has a title that is very eloquent already in itself: Spur On the Moment. Without congas, this solidly energetic tune would've been almost traditional improvisational Jazz, especially since there are plenty of female vocalizations delivered in the style's conventional manner (unlike those on the closing track). Nevertheless, the composition is performed superbly and has a lot of its own merits. My only complaint about it is that it's destined exclusively for jazz lovers. Starting with the third track, the music begins fully absorbing my attention, and to say without false modesty, I regard myself as an advanced listener with a broad horizon, Jazz-Fusion forming a healthy dose of my musical ration. On both Kemarru and its follow-up Worthseeing, there are some improvisational jams (reminding me to some degree of the Chick Corea Trio where Chick teamed up with Barry Altchul and Dave Holland), but those only appear as part of the mosaic, a kind of bridge between sections with different thematically-stylistic contents that helps the band reach a culmination, which in turn suggests to me the concept of structured Jazz Metal, in both cases. The only track with a fully-fledged vocal part (in Bahasa, the national language of Indonesia), the concluding composition, Kain Sigli, clocks in 20 minutes and comes across as the king of all epics. Easily the recording's pinnacle from a broad progressive standpoint, it is carefully arranged and excellently performed, as if summarizing all the best qualities of the musicians. Initially developing from the interplay between synthesizer and acoustic guitar (don't be surprised when being reminded of Black Sabbath's Sphinx here: the similarity is certainly accidental) into what I can't view otherwise than as Balinese Fusion, with the vocals, acoustic piano and Fender Rhodes all sharing the lead at the fore, and later on into a variety of styles, delivering probably everything that an omnivorous progressive soul is eager for, Jazz Metal included, the music is ever-changing, eclectic, driving and very picturesque all alike. All the musicians of Simak Dialog have excellent command of their instruments, but especially Riza (who's additionally responsible for the entire material as a songwriter) and Tohpati, each in approach reminding me of early Chick Corea and John Scofield respectively, though not everywhere - far from that. My favorite world-fusion band, Ancient Future, doesn't bear comparison with these islanders, but that's another story altogether.
Conclusion. Highly recommended. There are no less than 47 minutes of brilliant progressive music on Simak Dialog's "Patahan". I'd only advise them to more fully present their native music's forms in their further jazz-rock investigations.
VM: November 21, 2007
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