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Live Reviews

Jazz Gunung 2010, Bromo, Indonesia

By Published: July 15, 2010
The incredibly fast unison playing of Nyoman Suwida and Wayan Suastika on ganesa—a member of the xylophone family played simultaneously by two musicians with a single hammer each and constant hand-damping to alter the pitch of the notes—was absolutely spectacular. When the band was in full motion with the addition of the propulsive kendang of Wayan Sursana and the perpetual ceng ceng (small cymbals) of Wayan Sudarsana the results were simply electrifying and it rather whetted the appetite to witness a full thirty-piece Balinese gamelan orchestra unleashed.

Since releasing his debut album GloBALism (Chico & Ira Productions, 1999) Balawan has earned a reputation as one of the most talented guitarists in Indonesia. 1st Edition, (Sony Music Indonesia, 2007) pitted him with two of the countries finest and most progressive guitarists, Tohpati from SiamakDialog and Dewa Budjana, a recording that further cemented his name as an axe wizard par excellence. Although there was plenty of virtuosity in his playing, including simultaneous two-neck displays of dexterity, Balawan left copious room for his gamelan musicians to impose their mark on the music, with plenty of foot-to-the-floor unison playing to boot.


The chemistry at work in a group formed in '97 was palpable, and Balawan later recounted how he and the gamelan players had grown up together in the same village. A gamelan player originally, Balawan came late to the guitar by his own admission, at the advanced age of eight, and his technique—honed by eight hours practice a day in the early years— is a mixture of jazz and Balinese scales. Asking the ganesa players to slow it right down, and mimicking their slow motion playing, he demonstrated to the audience how he imports the same musical language to his guitar, thus illuminating a version of Chick Corea
Chick Corea
Chick Corea
's perennial "Spain" which had a distinctly Balinese flavor to it.

The band began with a melodious tune reminiscent of the Pat Metheny
Pat Metheny
Pat Metheny
which featured Eko Wicaksono on keyboards, before launching into "The Dance of Janger," one of several tunes from Magic Fingers. (Sony Music Indonesia, 2005) The velocity of the ganesa playing was thrilling and surely got the blood racing, not unwelcome given the cool ten degrees— woolen caps, fleeces and overcoats was the order of the day.

Bali has a strong Hindu identity and Indian music has obviously been an important influence on these musicians who sang konokol vocals with a notable Balinese accent. With the aid of pedals and various devices including EBow, Balawan transformed the sound of his guitar into a sitar on the lovely original composition "Summertime," a showpiece for Balawan's singing as much as his guitar playing. An impressive vocalist, his scatting in unison with his guitar playing brought to mind the lilting Mediterranean melodies of Italian guitarist/vocalist Pino Daniele.

An adrenaline-fuelled set charged with multi-layered rhythms and featuring beautiful melodies drew to a close with "Mie Reonong," which alternated between high velocity percussion interludes and the searching synth-guitar lines of Balawan and Wicaksono's keys. Balawan & Batuan Ethnic Fusion gave a resounding performance at Jazz Gunung '10, and one which will linger long in the memory.

Although the audience of around six hundred was almost entirely Indonesian—with the exception of the reviewer and an Englishman based in Jakarta—back-to-back, gamelan-based fusion groups, however distinct, called for a change in musical style, and the programmers duly obliged with Androginn, a vocal harmony group in the vein of The Manhattan Transfer or New York Voices
New York Voices
New York Voices

. Like TDT, ten-piece band Androginn was formed at university in '07, and has yet to record.

Bass voice Arya Mada Arjuna, tenor voice Adhitya Yanuar Sulaksono, soprano voice Nurbaitie Uthie and alto voice Doristha Happy Andhini formed the wings of the group and their lush harmonies went down well with the crowd. A velveteen version of "To You," popularized by Manhattan Transfer, began proceedings and was followed by "Kasmaran," one of several Indonesian compositions. Acoustic guitarist En'dika' Rachmawandani and saxophonist Wahyu Baskara, sparely used throughout the set, lent alternative colors to this breezy number. "Sempura," by Andra Ramdadhan brought the rhythm section of drummer Reky and bassist Danial Sofyan more into the mix in a livelier number with additional depth added by dual layers of keyboard courtesy of Media Retmani and Rinto Dwi Istiyanto.


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