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Tohpati: Tribal Dance

Ian Patterson By

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A revered musician in Indonesia through his twenty-year association with progressive jazz outfit simakDialog and the guitar trio Trimus—alongside Indonesian guitar greats Dewa Budjana and Balawan—Tohpati has produced a handful of solo recordings since the late 1990s. Through Moonjune Records, however, Tohpati is gradually reaching a wider international audience. Save The Planet (Moonjune Records, 2010) with his band Ethnomission showcased the broad dynamics of the guitarist's Indonesian jazz-fusion, while Riot (Moonjune Records, 2012) was a scintillating power trio outing with bassist Indro Hardjodikoro and drummer Adityo Wibowo. Tribal Dance reprises the trio format—in some style—with the formidable assistance of bassist Jimmy Haslip and drummer Chad Wakerman.

Though most tracks begin with a preamble of Indonesia ritual chanting, metallic percussion, tribal drums or bowed string instruments, this isn't ethnic-fusion or world-jazz; the music may be inspired by Tohpati's native Java but this is hard-driving jazz-rock in the main, with few frills. Tohpati played with Haslip when the Yellowjackets appeared at the Jakarta Jazz Festival in 2010 and there's a simpatico symmetry between them on the up-tempo "Rahwana" as they ease in and out of unison on the thumping title riff. Tohpati's thrilling solo charts a twisting course through reverse technique, distorted feedback and spiraling patterns before returning to the terra firma of the original melody and crushing riff.

At times Tohpati evokes the raw-edge of guitarist Scott Henderson, but there are also elements of guitarist Robert Fripp's precision; on "Spirit of Java" the slow, doom-heavy motif of the intro gives way to a rhythmically biting, riff-driven section, as though Black Sabbath was dueling with King Crimson; Tohpati's quicksilver solo owes little to either band, however. The galloping title track sees Tohpati switch between lyrical phrases, liquid unison passages with Haslip, a fast, articulate solo and charging trio dynamics. Haslip too, shows tremendously fleet fingers as he and ex-Frank Zappa drummer Wackerman reignite the partnership heard in guitarist Allan Holdsworth's mid 2000s quartet tribute to drummer Tony Williams.

Rush fans may enjoy the strutting riff, catchy melodic lines and flowing guitar solo that defines the straight-no-chaser rocker "Red Mask." At under two minutes, the pretty, solo guitar balladry of "Savan" provides an oasis of calm before the killer riffing of funk-rocker "Run" sets the andrenaline charging once more. The indigenous chants that introduce "Supernatural" may evoke a Cheech and Chong trip to some but there's nothing comedic about the bruising heavy metal riff and spectacular guitar improvisation that follows; Wackerman briefly flexes his muscles before the trio revisits the skull-crushing riff and abruptly signs off. The Tohpati solo feature "Midnight Rain"—bluesy and ethereal—sounds a curiously meditative finale.

If simakDialog's recent The 6th Story (MoonJune Records, 2013) showed a sophisticated, cerebral side to Tohpati's playing, then Tribal Dance is a much rawer, visceral delight. Tohpati is a great guitarist by any yardstick—inventive and utterly thrilling when in full flow. Guitar heads and rockers especially will love this album, but so too will those with a preference for progressive instrumental rock and modern jazz-fusion at its most biting.

Track Listing: Rahwana; Spirit of Java; Tribal Dance; Red Mask; Savana; Run; Supernatural; Midnight Rain.

Personnel: Tohpati: guitar; Jimmy Haslip: bass guitar; Chad Wackerman: drums.

Title: Tribal Dance | Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: Moonjune Records


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