Like other Pacific Islands, Indonesia has its contemporary, Western-influenced pop stars as well as its more traditional artists. And on the Indonesian island of Bali, music doesn't get any more traditional than the type of performances that are heard on this CD. Pitamaha: Music From Bali spotlights various gamelen -- traditional Balinese ensembles that emphasize bronze and bamboo instruments. (Gamelan is singular, gamelen is plural.) In gamelan music, string instruments take a back seat to bronze and bamboo instruments (if they're used at all). The man listeners can thank for these recordings is producer David Baker, who recorded the gamelen during a visit to Bali in December 1995 and January 1996. Baker had first discovered gamelan music during a trip to Bali in late 1992/early 1993, and when he returned to the island three years later, he was determined to do some recording. It isn't hard to see why Baker found the gamelen captivating; this type of music has a very haunting, hypnotic quality. Another adjective that comes to mind when Pitamaha is playing is "intriguing" -- that is, if you're looking at things from a non-Indonesian, non-Balinese perspective. Someone who grows up in Bali and hears gamelan music his/her entire life won't find the CD's bronze/bamboo orientation usual. But in most cultures -- Middle Eastern, African, European, Latin American, or otherwise -- one doesn't encounter a lot of traditional ensembles that emphasize bronze and bamboo at the expense of string instruments. In traditional Balinese music, there is nothing that's comparable to the Arabic oud, the Turkish saz, the Indian sitar, or the Chinese morin huur -- in a gamelan, it's all about the bronze and the bamboo. Totally untouched by the modern pop sounds of the Pacific, Pitamaha takes a rewarding look at an art form that has been enriching Bali for centuries.
AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson