Miri International Jazz Festival, May 14-15, Malaysia, Borneo
The first day of MIJF '10 closed with headliner Michael Shrieve's Spellbinder. Immortalized in Michael Wadleigh's documentary Woodstock (Warner Bros, 1970) for his incendiary drum solo in front of half a million people during Santana's "Soul Sacrifice" at the legendary festival, Shrieve has come a long way since then. He has played with an impressive array of musicians across musical genres during his long career and was something of a pioneer in the field of electronic percussion in the '70s. He has also composed film soundtracks and was inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame in '98.
Spellbinder is a five-piece band based in Seattle, and it plays a weekly residency at Chris Lang's Tost, which showed in the tightness of the ensemble interplay. That there is some resemblance to Santana's music is not surprising given Shrieve's eight album, five-year tenure in the band. As Santana himself recognizes, Shrieve had a huge influence on the guitarist by turning him onto the music of Miles Davisand John Coltrane. Though Shrieve refuses to revisit "Soul Sacrifice," which could easily have become a millstone around his neck, Spellbinder did perform Shrieve's own "Every Step of the Way" which appeared on Santana's exquisite Caravanserai (Sony, 1972)an album on which Shrieve contributed as composer to almost half the compositionsand another Santana staple, the funky "Jungle Strut" written by tenor legend Gene Ammons.
However, this is Spellbinder and muted trumpet, shimmering Hammond B3 and occasional employment of bass synth and guitar synth combined to create an altogether distinctive musical identity. The music merged rock, jazz fusion and funk, blurring the lines at every turn. Shrieve's drumming these days eschews overt showmanship, and there is plenty of space in his playing, with the needs of the music coming first. With Farko Dosumov on bass, the pair formed a deeply grooving rhythm section, laying a base from which guitarist Danny Godinez, trumpeter John Fricke and Hammond B3 player Joe Doria created ever-evolving soundscapes.
Most of the tunes came from the band's Live at Tost (CBSF, 2008) Godinez's tune "Flamingo" chartered vaguely psychedelic territory over a catchy hook line which Dosumov maintained on bass. First Godinez and then Fricke soloed strongly, with Dosumov switching to synth bass and coaxing lovely sounds from his strings. Only on the shifting patterns of "Moon over You" did Shrieve let himself go. After a short but captivating drum intro the tune settled into a gently swinging groove, punctuated by Fricke's potent trumpet and Godinez's sinewy explorations. When Godinez switched to synth guitar the tempo was raised, and urged on by the rhythm section, he stretched out. As the music ebbed and flowed, Fricke's moody, echoing electric trumpet sounds pierced the night air and Godinez feathery guitar harked back to late '60s Miles.
"They Love me Fifteen Feet Away," a vehicle for an extended jam, may be Shrieve's homage to his audiences, but in fact he is a very approachable guy with time for the people who show an interest in his music. Judging by the cheers and applause at the end of the encore, "Jungle Strut," Shrieve and Spellbinder were indeed loved by the Miri crowd.
The pregnant black clouds which greeted day two of MIJF '10 took little time to shed their load, and a heavy tropical downpour ensued for most of the morning. Although the rain abated during the early afternoon the sky was ominously dark and it was no surprise when opening act SimakDialog from Indonesia started its set under steady rain. Pianist Riza Arshad greeted Miri thus: "Hello Miri, hello rain, hello trees and hello grass," which was not inappropriate as the only people facing the band when it started its set were the soundboard crew. Slowly, however, within seconds of beginning, a few souls trickled towards the stage, sheltering under umbrellas and waterproofs, and their numbers swelled steadily, drawn by the exotic, hypnotic sounds which cut through the rain.
Seventeen years and five albums down the line SimakDialog has carved out a unique place in the Indonesian music scene. The band fuses Javan Sundanese rhythms distinguished by kendang drum (double-headed conical drum) and temple-esque gamelan gongs --- with roving improvisations on keyboards and guitar and spacey soundscapes that conjured up Miles Davis's Bitches Brew. (Columbia, 1969). Like an Indonesian Zawinul Syndicate, Simakdialog inhabits the no-man's land between world music and jazz; it is a heady, intoxicating mix that envelops the listener in a pulsating, brooding storm of flowing rhythms and free improvisation.