08 October 2010

CD REVIEW: simakDialog - Demi-Masa (2009, Moonjune Records)

There are times I think these self aware CD review openings are a little anti-climactic.

After all, by the time I get to the review, you already know what I’m going to be writing about (the title at the top is always a dead giveaway), and it’s not as if this extra text is all that necessary.  Of course, I do rather enjoy setting the stage for the review, and as such for the time being they’ll be staying around.

In any event…

One of the more exciting things about NEARfest,other than the bands, and discovering new bands I’d never heard of, and the hanging out with friends I get to see once a year, and all of that, is finding out who’ll be playing the festival the next year.  Usually we’ll get at least one announcement, and sometimes two, which will whet the appetite and help to start building excitement for the next year’s festival.  This year was no exception, with the organisers announcing Gösta Berlings Saga and simakDialog for NEARfest 2011.

Gösta Berlings Saga is a band I am semi-familiar with, if for no other reason than members of GBS are also involved in the Makajodama project, which I absolutely loved last year.  SimakDialog, on the other hand, was a completely unknown quantity for me.  I knew they were Indonesian, but that was quite frankly the extent of any knowledge I had of them.  It was fortunate, then, that I was given an opportunity to check out some of their material courtesy of Leonardo at Moonjune Records, the band’s label.

We’re going to start off with a look at Demi-Masa, the band’s 2009 studio album.

On Demi-Masa, simakDialog is a 5 piece augmented by 3 guest musicians.  Much of the material sees piano and guitar as the focal points, and the respective musicians (Riza Arshad on piano, Tohpati Ario on guitar) are incredibly expressive players.  Their style is intensely jazzy, with just a touch of Soft Machine-esque fusion to temper things.  Tohpati is particularly engaging, with his playing shifting from subtle to intense in the blink of an eye.  I really think he’s a player to watch out for…before hearing Demi-Masa I’d not been familiar with him at all, and I already consider him a special and unique musicalvoice that rates up there wil some of my favourite Canterbury/fusion players.  They are backed by Adhitya Pratama, whose bass playing is incredibly subtle, but perfect for this kind of ensemble playing, and Endang Ramdan and Erlan Suwardana on sundanese kendang (a two-headed drum often used in gamelan as one of the primary instruments in those ensembles).  The quieter percussion (no kit drumming here!) lends a softer feel to everything, which may seem to lessen the impact of some of the more intense playing, but actually does the opposite.

On Demi-Masa, this quintet is joined by Emy Tata (sundanese kendang, claps, vocals track 2), Mian Tiara (vocals traack 7) and Dave Lumenta (soundscapes track 8).

Musically…wow.  I’m not sure where to begin.  And frankly, as I have inferred, I wasn’t at all sure what I’d be hearing when I popped the CD in the first time.  Part of me expected…well, intense musicianship for one.  Heavy accents on percussion for two.  But I suppose I did expect something that would be closer to Gamelan or a similar style, and with my exposure to Gamelan influences being mostly as a result of some of the things King Crimson was doing in the 1980’s, I suppose I expected something a bit rockier and in my face.  Instead I got a heavy dose of subtlety, shifting tracks that flow from quiet calm to intense wailing, yet always in a somewhat restrained, measured fashion.  This is definitely fusiony stuff…at least on Demi-Masa, and I think people who like the more free-form sounds of later Soft Machine, with emphasis on impressive guitar playing, will love this.

I am particularly enamoured of the cool percussive and vocal elements of ‘Salilana Kedua,’ layered with excellent drumming, polyrhythms stacked atop more polyrhythms, everything melting together in a wonderfully fluid melange that never feels jumbled or difficult to manage.  Tohpati even shines on acoustic guitar…and while I am faling inextricably in love with his electric playing, his acousitc work merits note as well.  The subtle opening of ‘Tak Jauh Pertama’ leads into far more intense instrumental interplay, with some of the most intense electric guitar soloing on the album, while ‘Tak Jauh Kedua’ showcases some incredibly lyrical piano and Rhodes playing from Arshad.

A trio of shorter pieces follows, all with the prefix ‘Trah Lor’ (Northern People).  The first of these, ‘Trah Lor – Laras’ is dramatic, with very cool piano playing and subtle percussive accents behind.  ‘Trah Lor – Rupa’ builds from this, with almost Zappa-esque synth sounds and arrangements that are very much unlike other pieces on the album.  The final part of the trilogy is Trah Lor – Tapak,’ which wraps up the multi-part suite with a dose of soundscapes and ethereal, other worldly vocals from Mian Tiara.  The result is striking…while so much of simakDialog’s material seems so earthy and centered, this piece takes the elements we’ve heard thus far and launches them into the cosmos.  It is a wildly different composition, as each of the three in this suite have been.

‘Disapih’ wraps the album up as the final track.  A 13-minute extended piece, it’s a final chance for the band to shine, and they do so throughout.  Tohpati’s guitar playing is wonderful, with a slightly fuzzed tone that almost mimics (but doesn’t quite) an electric sitar, with some wonderful guitar/drum unisons that seem almost telepathic.  Arshad’s Rhoses chops are on fine display, and Adhitya Pratama’s bass lines are so graceful and fluid, mixed perfectly and adding warmth and a pulse that brings the piece to life.  It’s light, it’s uplifting, it’s Canterbury meets fusion in Southeast Asia with just the right amount of each.

While I still have another simakDialog album to review for you, Constant Reader, it’s best to start with their newest work.  And Demi-Masa is a brilliant album that offers up its treasures slowly but surely to the devoted listener.  I think this is music that will go over very well in a live setting, and I think they may well be one of the surprises of NEARfest 2011.  Demi-Masa’s well worth searching out.

Track Listing:
1.  Salilana Pertama (Forever, Part 1)  14:01  
2.  Salilana Kedua (Forever, Part 2) 6:46 
3.  Tak Jauh Pertama (Not So Far, Part 1) 7:42 
4.  Tak Jauh Kedua (Not So Far, Part 2) 9:11 
5.  Trah Lor - Laras (Northern People - Voices) 2:28 
6.  Trah Lor - Rupa (Northern People - Faces) 3:41 
7.  Trah Lor - Tapak (Northern People - Prints) 3:46 
8.  Karuhun (To Elders) 9:06 
9.  Disapih (Separate Away) 13:16

Riza Arshad - rhodes piano, acoustic piano, soundscapes
Tohpati Ario - electric/acoustic guitars
Adhitya Pratama - electric bass
Endang Ramdan - sundanese kendang (prime)
Erlan Suwardana - sundanese kendang (2nd)

Find out more:


Roger T said...

Always on the lookout for new stuff, this is a great band - thanks for the review. All their MySpace stuff seems to be from earlier cds, but I'd still take a risk on Demi-Masa. One problem - can't seem to find Demi-Masa anywhere. Do you know where I can buy it? I'm in the UK so a European distributor would be cheaper for me.

Bill K. said...

Good question and I am not sure. The first place I thought of was Musea, but they are sold out on it according to their site. I'd normally be recommending getting it right from MoonJune Records...they've got it for $14 US with free shipping to anyplace outside the US, but I don't know if you'd get hit with VAT/excise duty or not...

Roger T said...

Brilliant! All ordered - even if they do charge VAT it will still be worth it. Thanks Bill :)

Roger T said...

CD arrived today - playing it now, well impressed. Thanks for the review that prompted me to take a gamble. Also, Moonjune get my vote for their fast and efficient delivery - I ordered the cd on 9th Oct, and it arrived here in the UK today!

I will use Moonjune again...

Regards - Roger

Roger T said...

A completely different kettle of fish tomorrow - I'm off to London's Royal Albert Hall to see Porcupine Tree play The Incident in full for the last time, followed by a set of tunes "pre In Absentia". Two and a half hours of music is promised - can't wait! I'll post a review on my blog for those of you not lucky enough to be able to see it.

Roger T said...

.....and here's the PT gig review...


Ben Sommer said...

Jakarta? Keyboardist has some slick chops - interesting, like the lead track on their myspace.