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Jazz Gunung 2010, Bromo, Indonesia


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Jazz Gunung 2010
Bromo, Indonesia
July 3, 2010
Gunung is not the name of the town which hosts Jazz Gunung; in Bahasa—the predominant language of Indonesia—it means mountain. Mountain Jazz is as good a name as any given that this one-day festival is staged among the swirling clouds, some two thousand meters above sea level in the East Java town of Wonotoro. It's a three-hour drive from the nearest airport of Surabaya and the contrast between sprawling conurbation with its teeming roads— chaotic yet curiously functional—and the bucolic idyll of the high mountain pass where Jazz Gunung is staged couldn't be more pronounced.

Passing through town after town, the sight of tricycle rickshaws tenaciously negotiating the thick traffic serves as a symbol of the stubborn refusal of the past to cede to the roller coaster changes modern Indonesia is undergoing. However, the occasional crumbling façade of colonial Dutch architecture is reminder enough of the inevitable passing of all things, empires and tricycle taxis included.

The turn-off to Wonotoro and Jazz Gunung leaves the towns behind and soon bright green rice fields and tall walls of corn roll endlessly by. The narrow, rutted road winds its way up a valley, wildly lush and verdant. The Tengger inhabitants of the valley are Hindu—unlike the majority of lowland Javanese who follow Islam—and have the leathery color of the Nepalese or Tibetans.

The steep mountain sides are carefully sculpted into agricultural terraces, often at seemingly impossible angles of seventy five degrees. On the lower slopes and on the plains farmers toil in fields of mulberry, cabbage, lettuce and tomato which will end up in the markets of Jakarta, a five-hour drive away. It is odd to think that some of these farmers will later be performing in the jazz festival. In the villages women sell Edelweiss by the side of the road, and children on holiday from school fly red, yellow and blue kites which lift and dance easily in the mountain currents.

The valley is bursting at the seams with trees, coarse bushes, ferns and palms. Even the areas around the snug, brightly colored village houses are sewn with vegetables, or flowers such as rhododendrons or buttercups. The incredibly fertile soil of this area is due to the active volcano Bromo in the next valley, and for longer than anyone can remember it has spewed out smoke and ash into the air. Roughly every September during the Kasada festival the Tengger people climb to the rim of Bromo and throw offerings of flowers and live fowl to the God of Fire to ensure good fortune for the coming year. All in all, it is a strange yet undeniably stunning setting for a jazz festival.

The man behind Jazz Gunung is Sigit Pramono, a senior Indonesian banker, jazz lover and keen photographer. Pramono initiated a number of bank-funded infrastructure and economic programs in the area—a national park—which have directly benefited the lives of the Tengger people. At the same time Pramono has indulged his passion for photography and over the years he has published several books of his photographs of the volcano, the surrounding terrain and the local people, endearing himself to them in the process. In '07, during the sacred Kasada festival Pramono received the rare honor of being appointed as a senior, honorary citizen of the Tengger people.

Most tourists however,come to the national park to see the sun rise over Bromo—clouds and fog permitting—and it's not a bit of wonder; on a clear day the view is other worldly. Eight peaks wind around to form the crater rim of an ancient, massive volcanic mountain called Mt Tengger which has a diameter of ten kilometers. It is difficult to imagine the size of the eruption which threw up the Tennger massif caldera; in the foreground in the middle of the massif is the smoking, sulphurous Bromo flanked by two extinct volcanoes and surrounded by the Sea of Sand. In the far distance the great volcano Semeru, belching out steam, smoke and stones every fifteen to twenty minutes. Semeru last erupted in '04 and it is not surprising that a typical Tengger greeting translates as: "May you always be in safety."

The tourists however, usually stay only one night to catch the sunrise before departing. Asked to rebrand the area as a tourist destination worth lingering a while longer over, Pramono came up with the idea of a jazz festival, staged in the grounds of his own Java Banana Bromo lodge in the town, aided by Djaduk Ferianto and Butet Kartaredjasa. With the organizational and programming aid of the indefatigable Agus Setiawan and Wartajazz.com—the most active jazz advocacy body in Indonesia (and beyond)—the first edition of Gunung Jazz was successfully held in '09, with about five hundred people attending. Only two bands performed first time around, but this year the program has grown to six bands. So far all the bands to perform at Jazz Gunung have been Indonesian bands, but next year will almost certainly see the festival incorporate international bands and a second stage. Clearly, Pramono has a long-term vision for Jazz Gunung.

TDT Percussion

The music began with TDT Percussion, a group formed in '07 at Universitas Negeri in Surabaya where the members are studying percussion as a major. The music was an arresting mixture of western and Javan instruments, jazz scales and traditional Javanese vocals. With the double-headed kendang drum of Rofi'ul Fajar and the electric bass of Hendra Tanaya forming a strong rhythm team, pianist Bagus played straight ahead jazz lines over the expressive and ethereal vocals of Ayu on the opener "Semebyar." The violin of Jarmani played a continual lament and Cecep on banjo and Kholam on bonang (pot-like gongs) added layers of sound to the rich mix which takes the Banyuwangi flavor of East Java as its main influence.

Bagus's touch on piano was understated in a very Ellingtonian way and only on the third number, "Ojo Cilik Ati," did he stretch himself in graceful solo tinged with the blues. Ayu's yearning, imploring vocals were central to the always rhythmic music and violin played sympathetic counterpoint for the most part. On the final number, "Ulan Andling Andling," Bagus played McCoy Tyner-like accompaniment to Ayu's balladic delivery. A short but exhilarating passage played on four tambourines and kendang brought the song and the set to a dramatic percussive conclusion. At around thirty minutes the set seemed a little too short, surely a good sign that the music is making a connection. TDT Percussion demonstrated elegantly that different musical languages can merge to speak with one voice; Duke Ellington, the original world music musician, would no doubt have approved.

TDT Percussion are part of Jazz C26, Surabaya; these Jazz Communities are found all over Indonesia and are meeting places for jazz musicians—professional and amateur alike—as well as non-playing devotees of the music. All are bound by a love of jazz and to its credit Jazz Gunung made space for three non-professional jazz bands from various Communities in this year's program. This is a great opportunity for young musicians to play in front of an appreciative audience on a slightly larger stage than normal and this encouragement can only be good for the development of jazz at the grass roots level in Indonesia.

The MCs for Jazz Gunung were Butet Kartaredjasa and Djaduk Ferianto. Farianto is an accomplished musician but judging by the response of the crowd he may well have a second calling as a comedian. Kartaredjasa for his part had the audience in stitches, so it came as no surprise to learn that he has long been a political satirist, making a name for himself during the Suharto years, which gave him plenty of satirical ammunition. Even though the meaning was lost on this reviewer it was nevertheless refreshing to hear a jazz festival audience so amused and entertained by an MC, as they can often be dry and rather mechanical.

Next up was Balinese group Balawan & Batuan Ethnic Fusion. This group is an exciting blend of Balinese gamelan and Balawan's outstanding guitar playing. His tapping and touch playing on a Stephallen double neck—an Indonesian manufactured instrument—and a mounted guitar brought Stanley Jordan to mind, and the comparison in no way flatters Balawan, a genuine virtuoso. The eight piece band, like TDT before, was a combination of western and native rhythms. With no disrespect to TDT it would be fair to say that the four Balinese gamelan musicians in the group are all master musicians.

Batuan Ethnic Fusion

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's perennial "Spain" which had a distinctly Balinese flavor to it.

The band began with a melodious tune reminiscent of the 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. 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.


The other musicians then dropped out to leave the four voices center stage to interpret the classic Maschwitz/Sherwin/Strachey composition "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square," a tune covered by everyone from Vera Lyn, Frank Sinatra, The Manhattan Transfer to Sonny Rollins. To almost complete silence from the audience the vocal quartet gave a harmonically rich interpretation which was warmly received. Although stylistically speaking, Androginn are influenced by the great American vocal ensembles previously referred to, and swing and jazz standards too, it was noteworthy that five out of seven compositions performed by Androginn were by Indonesian composers, which hints at the depth of music in Indonesia, a country of two hundred and twenty five million people. An enjoyable set concluded with "Bebaskan," a soul-infused number which featured short but grooving solos from guitar, keyboard and saxophone.

With clouds enveloping the festival site, deep incantations like animist chants announced the beginning of an extremely brief set by local gamelan musicians Wargo Budaya, joined on a deceptively expressive two-stringed guitar by Djaduk Ferianto. Gently rumbling percussion over a bass drum pulse provided a base from which Ferianto developed a vaguely psychedelic improvisation. Chants drifted in and out and a battery of five small xylophones sounded like wind chimes as the piece built to a climax, with long cries released into the mountain air. Hauntingly captivating.

Djaduk Ferianto & Wargo Budaya

The altogether more earthly Monday Night Band from the Jazz Community of Jogja brought some swinging grooves and familiar tunes to Jazz Gunung. The opening notes of "Night and Day" sung by Sita brought a loud cheer from an audience well familiar with jazz standards. With drummer Benny and bassist Danny steering the band, pianist Andy Gomez gave a short but bluesy solo. Sita took up the reins again, accompanied by the saxophone of Jay Afrisando and the song finished on a rousing note.

Guitarist Bon Bon stepped to the forefront with a tasteful solo on the upbeat "Happy Again" and the band continued by launching into Sade's "Smooth Operator;" a quite personal rendition of this song was noteworthy for an extended guitar improvisation and a lively beat which rebranded the song. A quietly stated version of Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Corcovado" saw vocalist Rere taking over singing duties and featured another nice solo from Bon Bon. Less convincing vocally was an awkward sounding version of the Beatles "Come Together," which seems to have become something of a standard for every house band in the Far East, though the slow burning instrumental passage featuring piano, guitar and bass injected some adrenalin into the tune.

The placing of clay pots of flaming coals in front of the front benches was a sign that the temperature was dropping still further, though a fifteen minute version of "Fever" went some way to warming the crowd. The song, perhaps best associated with Peggy Lee has been recorded and performed over the years by everyone from Grateful Dead to the Spice Girls and is well known to Indonesian audiences too. The enthusiasm of the audience for the most adventurous solos of the set, first from Gomez and then from Jay on saxophone, underlined that this audience welcomed the musicians stretching out.

The honor of closing the festival fell to Syaharani & QueenFireworks, otherwise known as ESQI:EF. Vocalist Syaharani has a reputation as one of Indonesia's finest jazz singers, though in truth the tag rather limits her, for the range of music she sings touches upon jazz, pop, soul, funk and hip-hop. Whatever style she is singing in however, she possesses a voice with the deep strength and soul of Annie Lennox. Her set, by far the longest of the day at around an hour and a half began with a version of Hoagy Carmichael's much covered 1938 classic "The Nearness of You," with veteran guitarist Danny Suhendra providing deft accompaniment on acoustic guitar.

Much of the material came from the excellent crossover album Anytime (Demajors Records, 2010) and the performance fizzed with the tremendous energy emanating from Syaharani's larger-than-life persona. Following the gentle opener the band let rip with the outstanding "Picnic to the Sky," a pop anthem of epic proportions which featured a call and response section between singer and audience. On this driving number the full force of Syaharani's vocals were felt and her voice no doubt soared far down the valley.


A notable tunesmith, most of the melodies Syaharani sang were turning around the head long after the performance was over. "Mungkin (Katakan)" began as the gentlest of ballads and featured the wonderfully named Ivano Coconut on pianica; Coconut, who hails from Papua, also impressed with his infectious jembe playing. The song grew gradually to a powerful crescendo which was sustained by the free-spirited vocal improvisation of Syaharani.

A funky bass line from Kristian Dharma led into the ultra catchy "Sayan Sayan Sayan." Never missing an opportunity to involve the crowd, Syaharani left the stage and brought her microphone close up and personal, inviting adults and children to sing the highly melodic refrain in a wonderfully good humored atmosphere. Bringing the tempo down a notch, Syaharani sang the title track of her album Anytime accompanied by acoustic guitar and jembe initially, before being joined by the rest of the band in a stirring finale. Suhendra's flowing guitar solo on this number underlined his status as one of the finest in Indonesia.

A memorable concert culminated with the tune "De'dia" which saw the irrepressible singer lead a human chain which snaked its way around the grounds before dissolving in dance in front of the stage. From jazz standards and swing to irresistible self-penned pop tunes, Syaharani and QueenFireworks gave a high energy performance which would have served as the perfect closing statement for Jazz Gunung, except that the final chorus came from an all-hands-on-deck jam session.

The youngest of eight jazz festivals in Indonesia, and for the time being perhaps the smallest, Jazz Gunung has nevertheless laid solid foundations for the future. The unique location combined with a varied program of the best in Indonesian jazz—and from next year international acts are penciled in —means that Jazz Gunung has every possibility of developing into one of the must-see events on the Asian jazz festival calendar.

Photo Credits

Page 4, photo 2: Kushindarto/WartaJazz.com

All other photos: Ian Patterson

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