Gambang kromong, named for the gambang xylophone, is a regional Jakarta sound that goes back as far as the 1700s. The ensemble sound is long since out of style with the urban cultural elite, but it's still favored by fishermen, jitney drivers, laborers, peddlers, and factory hands in towns surrounding the enormous capital. As revealed here, the music is a bizarre amalgamation of Indonesian, European, American, and Chinese aesthetics.
The old repertoire songs that begin the selections here feature the Chinese shawm, a wailing double-reed horn. The gambang, shawm, violins, flute, and kettle gongs all play in a pentatonic scale that has no counterpart in Western music and takes some getting used to. These pieces feature a female vocalist, long meandering melodies, and frequent shifts in the rhythm.
The new repertoire songs in the second half reflect the post-World War II era with its urge to make the music more danceable, and also the unexpected influence of New Orleans jazz. The rhythms are livelier and the instrumentation extends to include horns and guitars. A lengthy stambul, a form derived from an old comedy tradition, features swinging trumpet work, Hawaiian guitar, and the jazzy croon of a male singer mixed in with the violin and gambang -- in all, a surreal, standout track. The rest of the program offers a delightfully discordant hodgepodge of elements, right through to the concluding number in which European brass band instruments and a violin play interlocking melodies over aggressive Sundanese percussion.