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"The 6th Story" by simakDialog

Alchemical Jazz from Indonesia

It’s difficult to believe that this band has been around since 1993. While they have garnered great praise from all over southeast Asia, the western world is only now beginning to catch on to the brilliance of this progressive jazz band. The exposure to the West has largely been due to their three most recent albums on the MoonJune Records label.

The third and current release from MoonJune is “The 6th Story” and is the long-awaited follow-up to 2009’s “Demi Masa.” The simakDialog sound has been honed and shaped for 20 years and the band itself are hitting a new stride that is fittingly concurrent with their widening exposure and acceptance.

The band is lead by the compositional creativity of keyboardist Riza Arshad who wrote all of the material on the current album. Arshad plays the Fender Rhodes, synthesizers and acoustic piano and is a musician extraordinaire. He is joined in the band’s leadership by the brilliant guitarist--and MoonJune recording artist--Tohpati Ario Hutomo.

The rhythm section is formed by bassist Adhitya Pratama, metal percussionist Cucu Kurnia and Sundanese kendang percussionists Endang Ramdan (left) and Erlan Suwardana (right). They create the intricate and fascinating rhythms of the Sundanese to support the equally intricate melodies of Riza and Tohpati.

The riveting interplay between Riza and Tohpati are evident from the opening track entitled “Stepping In.” There are moments recalling Return to Forever’s “Hymn to the Seventh Galaxy” and Bill Bruford’s “One of a Kind.” That, of course, is enough to keep anyone nailed to the music.

This is not just modern Jazz but modern-modern-modern Jazz. Some have made references to Joe Zawinul and others but this is more than simply fusion.

In “Stepping In,” the mesmerizing left-right body blows of the kendang percussionists keep the rhythm anchored as Adhitya’s bass jabs in cool syncopated pulses. The hook hits you from the first track.

The second track, “Lain Parantina” is an exercise in off-tempos and demanding exactness. The kendang players plus Kurnia are captivating in their polyrhythms. The guitar of Tohpati and Fender Rhodes of Riza are in perfect compliment. The quick times and lock-step runs are brilliant.

The drive of Riza is well-accompanied and even accentuated by Tohpati’s splendid guitar is such pieces as “Harmologic” and “What Would I Say.” One thinks of the hand-in-glove partnership of Chick Corea and Al DiMeola.

The compositions are striking indeed with the western-influenced melodies underscored by the Sundanese rhythmic constructs. “What Would I Say” has a beautiful and melancholy arrangement that highlights the loveliness of the piece.

“For Once and Never” is strident in its cadence and Tohpati’s guitar is almost noble in presentation and expression. Adhitya’s bass lines are also interesting to follow, often in progression with the keyboard as the guitar is more exploratory. It is Riza’s keyboard performance and compositional mastery, however, that are incredibly elegant and eloquent.

As aggressive as anything from Zawinul without the arrogance is “Common Leagues.” Tohpati indulges in sweet and blistering guitar riffs here while the next track, “As Far As It Can Be (Jaco),” is maybe the most lyrical piece on the recording. There is a delicate sadness to the song and Riza and Tohpati develop it remarkably.

“5, 6” employs challenging time shifts and demands virtuosity in this precision piece. The rhythms are gruelling for any except master percussionists like Endang, Erland and Cucu. The melody is certainly servant to the rhythms here. And nobody minds.

“Ari” is Riza’s showcase track. The piano and synth work is beautiful and captivating. When the rhythm section joins in force at the end, it is an astonishing conclusion with unity and force. It is a fine way to close out an album.

Categorization of simakDialog is impossible. Freestyle Jazz, Fusion, Psychodelic Jazz, even Progressive Jazz all seem to fall short. This should be called Alchemical Jazz--not just combining elements but rising above the various elements to create something newer, greater and truly unheard before. But I certainly want to hear more.

"The 6th Story" from simakDialog can be ordered from MoonJune records at moonjune.com.

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Travis Rogers