Personnel: Tohpati (electric guitar); Riza Arshad (electric piano, Fender Rhodes piano); Rudy Zulkarnaen (bass guitar); Erlan Suwardana, Endang Ramdan (percussion).
Audio Mixer: Riza Arshad.
Liner Note Author: Dan Burke .
Recording information: The Orion, Baltimore, MD (09/07/2013).
Photographers: Buster Harvey; Michael Herman.
On 2015's double-disc Live at Orion, Indonesian jazz fusion sextet simakDialog stretch out across their lengthiest recording yet, opening new avenues of exploration for their grooves, improvisational fire, and often astoundingly telepathic interplay. The album was cut live before a deep-listening audience at Mike Potter's prog-centric Orion Studios in Baltimore, Maryland during September 2013, the same month that simakDialog's third MoonJune album, The 6th Story, was released. Naturally, the live set includes several numbers from their concurrent studio outing, but while both The 6th Story and Live at Orion consist of nine tracks, the former was one hour in duration and the latter sprawls out to nearly two. Only the Canterbury-esque "For Once and Never" falls below the ten-minute mark; at the other end of the scale, the 18-minute monster "This Spirit" provides plenty of time for probing investigations of sonic space. Yet simakDialog never lose focus across Live at Orion -- and indeed use the extra minutes wisely to amp up the energy and push past the already high quality of their preceding records. While Fender Rhodes player Riza Arshad writes some of the most memorable melodies and riffs in 21st century fusion, performing them deftly in tandem with Tohpati on electric guitar, the two men's agile soloing here, cutting across simakDialog's insistent circular rhythms, should command particular enthusiasm from fusion fans. And those rhythms remain unique in the idiom, arriving courtesy of Sundanese kendang drummers Endang Ramdan and Erlan Suwardana, with embellishments from Cucu Kurnia's metal percussion and electric bassist Rudy Zulkarnaen providing a solid yet responsive foundation.
As simakDialog listeners have come to expect, the kendang players' often steady clip-clop provides forward momentum but also a sense of understatement that makes standard-issue fusion drummers, playing conventional drum kits, seem like bombastic bashers in comparison. Ramdan and Suwardana lock into the group's abrupt stops and starts, while the heart of the music finds the percussionists cruising freely forward as Arshad and Tohpati subtly push and pull against the hypnotic beats. With expert pacing, the ensemble begins this set with propulsive yet compositionally multifaceted groovers like "Stepping In" -- which finds Tohpati startlingly inventive in his mastery of effects and impossibly fast in his wide interval-leaping phraseology -- and gradually opens up to freer modes of collective exploration on second-disc numbers like "Kemarau" and the aforementioned "This Spirit." Growling, wailing keys and guitar burst from Arshad's initial compelling world fusion theme in "This Spirit" before an interlude of beautiful lyricism provides a gateway into skittery improvisations that coalesce with rising energy, navigating pointedly back to the tune's thematic motifs, and the bandmembers are likewise collectively outré after the fractured funk-jazz intro to "Kemarau." But by the concluding "5, 6" the percussionists are once again holding the groove, despite the shifting time signature and incendiary riffage traded off between Arshad, Tohpati, and guest guitarist Beledo. The percussionists don't resist the urge to shout during their break, and after all their earlier steady-handedness, who could blame them? ~ Dave Lynch