Review Summary: Jazz-rock and world music fusion at its best.
There are always multiple musical personalities inside of prolific guitarist and composer Tohpati. The young Indonesian teenagers perhaps more recognize him as a great pop-rock composer who has written easy-listening and more commercial songs for diva Krisdayanti, singer Marcell Siahaan and many others. In the meantime, guitar students willingly admire his virtuosity, and compel themselves to dig Trisum - a collaboration project with Balinese guitarists, Dewa Budjana and I Wayan Balawan - while continue to keep their dream; one day they will reach such a level too. However, when we take a look at those who define themselves fans of jazz and world-music fusion, SimakDialog is obviously the band that they don't want to miss out. The hybrid fusions of jazz, rock, and traditional Indonesian music have made SimakDialog as one of very promising world-music fusion acts nowadays. And of course, Ethnomission - one of his latest projects - is not something to miss out too.
Unlike SimakDialog where Tohpati and band-leader Riza Arshad (keyboardist) have been like a partner in crime due to their well plait chemistry, in Ethnomission, he has chosen different approach. He does not need two percussionists and more chordal vibes of keyboard as Simakdialog do, but he decided to add a powerful drummer, the prodigy Demas Narawangsa, into the line up. Demas is really a dependable player, in such a young age (16, when this album recorded) he has answered that reliance - this kid has bright future in jazz music! So now the important question is, how Tohpati manages the output sounded modern on one hand, with strong feels of jazz and rock combined with a bit funky bass guitar rhythms, but on the other hand it’s also local, tribal, and tropical Indonesian flavors. The answer lies within Diki Suwarjiki's bamboo flute, "suling" - a Sundanese flute. In fact, there are numerous other regions whose similar flute as this, but in Save the Planet
, apparently Sunda musical mode got a larger portion. However, Diki's playing is not merely Sunda ambience though, in "Let the Birds Sing" for example, he explores traditional Minangkabau (or Aceh? It’s hard to differentiate because they're both located in Sumatra mainland) musical fashion. If you pay attention on how Diki sounded his instrument entire the album, then you probably can feel its differences. "Let the Birds Sing" as if draws the hilly sphere of Minangkabau nature along with its greeny paddy-field landscapes. For some people, especially Malaysians, perhaps it will remind them to Seremban (Negeri Sembilan) traditional vibes. It's not quite a surprise anyway, for hundreds years those "Tom-and-Jerry" countries have shared same linguistic roots, traditional music, cuisine, and another kind of culture.
To be honest, it's hard to name the precise comparison albums so as to make Save the Planet
easier to describe. But, in a glance, Tohpati's soaring electric-guitar solos perhaps will remind us to Robert Fripp, John McLaughlin, and Pat Metheny, but when he mess' around on strange Javanese and Balinese scales, he is reminiscent of nobody. True, Ethnomission are in the same spirit as what Mahavishnu Orchestra ever did in early 70s, and Pat Metheny Group in late 70s and early 80s. However, what makes this album quite different and all at once groundbreaking must be its strong accent of ethnic fusions. You can feel its distinctive atmosphere even in first track. The self-titled track, "Save the Planet", whether you like or dislike it, this song has a firmly ecological sounding-inclined in it. Here, Tohpati and friends succeed in bringing the woodland's elegy, the message is clear; save our beloved mother earth. And then, "Sacred Dance", this eight-minute track begins with a sort of gentle and atmospheric soundscape accompanied by rhythmic percussions. But, when it goes into second-half part, typical "sinden" - woman singer of Javanese gamelan orchestra - Lestari, drives a better nuance for mysterious and captivating moments for a while. Sometimes, this could be elusive for those who haven't been familiar with gamelan music, but let it grows on you in few first listens, after that see what happens. In general, the album offers similar idea with those two tracks, jazz-rock with strong ethnic influences.
It's hard to deny that in modern music history, for years we have been able find countless albums that offer nice amalgamation of so-called "east-meet-west" music, but this Southeastern Asia country, Indonesia, was slightly obscure territory to explore. True, we can find similar musical endeavors as what American clarinetist Tony Scott and his Indonesian friends pianist Bubi Chen, Jack Lesmana, and Benny Mustapha van Dienst ever did on their 1967 modal-jazz album, Djanger Bali
. Also, when we look back at years of 1940s for instance, there was a Canadian jazzman, Colin McPhee, who composed jazz with strong Balinese music in his Concerto for Two Pianos and Large Orchestra Using Bali, Jazz and McPhee Elements
. Such effort was ever tried too by German musician, Eberhard Schoener, in his Bali Agung
(Great Bali) album.
Anyhow, compared to those mentioned albums above, Save the Planet
is quite different, not only because of it has jazz-rock as one of its main foundations, but also Balinese music itself has significant difference compared to Javanese, Sundanese, and even less Malayan Sumatra music. Therefore this album has its own unique disposition and worth listening. The only constructive proposition perhaps it is Ethnomission should explore more another exotic vibes of the archipelago. If they do this, they do fit their band name. In short, for casual jazz fusion and progressive-rock fans, they may need a little bit time to absorb this. But for the jazz-freaks, and even wider, guitar work devotee, Save the Planet
is a gem to dig.
Tohpati: electric guitar, midi synth guitar
Indro Hardjodikoro: bass guitar
Diki Suwarjiki: suling (Sundanese flute), soundscapes
Endang Ramdan: Indonesian percussion (kendang, gong, kenong)
Demas Narawangsa: drums, Indonesian percussion (rebana, kempluk)
Lestari: featuring vocals (track 2)