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Album Review

Dwiki Dharmawan: So Far So Close

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With the release of So Far So Close by keyboardist Dwiki Dharmawan, MoonJune Records continues their inconceivably fruitful collaboration with the cream of Indonesia's jazz crop. The first non-guitarist to be featured as a leader on the label, Dharmawan nevertheless drafts countrymen (and label mates) Tohpati and Dewa Budjana to provide 6-stringed excitement, while US-based superstars Jimmy Haslip and Chad Wackerman (also featured on Tohpati's own stellar fusion set Tribal Dance, MoonJune Records, 2014) provide their huge—but not overwhelming—skill sets to the bass and drum chairs, respectively. Ex-Mahavishnu Orchestra violinist Jerry Goodman sits in for one scintillating track; the soaring, searing, set-opening "Arafura." It's a shame he wasn't on more of So Close So Far, but the remainder of this multi-faceted fusion album is certainly not a let-down or disappointment of any kind.

Dharmawan, already a well-established recording artist, bandleader, peace activist, and educator in his native land, proves to be well-deserving of a star-studded musical premiere. Dude can flat-out play, and his multi-sectioned jazz-rock compositions have plenty of soul and flow. Dharmawan's music, like that of Budjana and Tohpati, draws equally on native ethnic influences and the sounds of Western progressive rock and jazz-rock artists such as Eric Johnson, Joe Zawinul, Chick Corea, and John McLaughlin to create something that is, at once, both highly personal and universal. Utilizing a battery of analog keyboards and vintage synthesizers, each of Dharmawan's tunes are rife with the white-hot over-the-top solos and dramatic rave-ups that nod fondly backwards to jazz-rock's Golden Age. Yet the production values here are pure 21st Century; somewhat slick at times, while never lapsing into treacly smooth jazz sentiment.

The ethnic strains come into the foreground most aggressively on "Jembrana's Fantasy," a labyrinthine, improvisation-oriented piece that manages to get way out there—Dharmawan's acoustic piano leading the way—amidst the contributions of I Nyoman Windha on variety of ethnic instruments. "The Return of the Lamafa" also bears pronounced ethnic influences, but goes in a completely different direction: inventively blending jazz-funk and progressive rock. The spacy, complicated harmonies of "NYC 2050" (not to mention Budjana's soaring legato inventions) are reminiscent of Allan Holdsworth's compositional concepts. "Whale Dance" and the title track both touch on funky fusion with some Javanese spice thrown in. By contrast, melodic, theme-driven pieces such as "Bromo" and "The Dark of The Light" have a decided similarity to what most of us would call progressive rock.

An auspicious introduction to an artist already well-known in his homeland, So Far So Close is hardly a debut album. Yet it has the feel of a debut. And we'll be hearing more from this gifted Indonesion keyboardist and composer: Dharmawan is also in the World Peace Trio, a co-operative with Israeli-born multi-instrumentalist Gilad Atzmon and the Jordanian oud master Kamal Musallam.

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