In Sid Smith's liner notes to Chapter One, I Know You Well Miss Clara's 2013 debut album on MoonJune Records, guitarist Reza Ryan is described as the Indonesian jazz-rock quartet's "principal composer and guiding force," and while his creative leadership becomes abundantly clear as the album proceeds, the talents of Ryan's bandmates also shine brightly from the get-go. The opening moments of ten-plus-minute leadoff track "Open the Door, See the Ground" find the spotlight firmly on the darkly hued, reverbed electric piano of Adi Wijaya, who co-wrote the number with Ryan. Electric bassist Enriko Gultom and drummer Alfiah Akbar soon join in with an uptempo swinging groove to support Wijaya's fleet-fingered pianistics, but Ryan still holds back. When the guitarist does make his bold entrance, at nearly the four-minute mark, he is revealed to be quite the powerhouse indeed, and just the sort of killer soloist -- à la Allan Holdsworth, John Etheridge, or Marbin's Dani Rabin -- admired by MoonJune label head Leonardo Pavkovic. One can also hear the influence of Canterbury scene guitarist Phil Miller in Ryan's tone, phrasing, and scalar/modal choices, and the tune's core theme has a discernable Matching Mole flavor. By the middle of "Open the Door, See the Ground," though, Ryan is somewhere else entirely -- and taking the band with him -- as intermittent thick choppy chords and effects signal that outright metal and noise-tinged assaults are well within the group's purview.
The nearly 15-minute "Reverie #2" initially seems appropriately named, with Gultom's deep bass throb, Wijaya's crystalline keys, and Akbar's restrained drums supporting a lovely theme voiced by Ryan with burning sustain; the guitarist drops out during a spacy keys-bass-drums feature but then commences a machine-gun flurry of single notes gradually bent upward in pitch as his bandmates continue their measured approach, apparently unperturbed by Ryan's wild presence in their midst. All four quartet members ultimately find themselves pulled toward an agitated middle ground -- pretty far from a reverie, actually -- that powerfully works back to the theme before the dynamic is momentarily lowered for a Gultom bass feature seemingly inspired by Richard Sinclair's work with Hatfield and the North. "Dangerous Kitchen" is a fine swinging vehicle for Wijaya on piano and guest Nicholas Combe on sax until, late in the game, Ryan explodes the tune with a "solo" constructed of angular metallic shards -- it sounds improvised yet Akbar is in lockstep with the guitarist every step of the way. Best of all is closing track "A Dancing Girl from the Planet Marsavishnu Named After the Love," a nearly 11-minute Mahavishnu-meets-Hatfields multifaceted gem that segues into a hiccuping time signature beneath Combe's increasingly urgent sax at the tune's conclusion. Despite Chapter One's explosive interludes, the lengthy tracks give the album an unhurried, exploratory quality overall, but at six minutes and change, the soaring guitar harmony-laden "Pop Sick Love Carousel" proves Reza Ryan and company can fully engage the listener in relatively short order as well.