The 6th Story


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The 6th Story Review

by Dave Lynch

Indonesian world fusioneers simakDialog are high-spirited yet often subtle on 2013's The 6th Story, the group's sixth album overall and third released internationally by MoonJune. Aside from the closing acoustic piano feature "Ari," simakDialog move further from the Pat Metheny contemporary jazz influences of their label debut, 2006's Patahan, continuing their integration of Western jazz fusion and Indonesian gamelan music as heard on 2009's Demi Masa. The core lineup is basically unchanged since Demi Masa -- although Cucu Kurnia has been added on metal percussion -- and there are no guest spots, so this is pure, unadulterated simakDialog, expansively grooving but with a newfound singularity of purpose. The band is tighter than ever, as immediately revealed by the ten-minute opener, "Stepping In": the jagged unison lines of Riza Arshad on Fender Rhodes and Tohpati on electric guitar (he plays no acoustic on the album) are crazily off-center against the dual Sundanese kendang drumming of Endang Ramdan (in the left channel) and Erlan Suwardana (in the right), the percussionists marking out the angles while maintaining steadily percolating momentum. And in the middle of all this, navigating the off-kilter stops and starts while pushing the music along, is bassist Adhitya Pratama, punchy as he needs to be without grandstanding. "Stepping In" becomes a jamming vehicle for exploratory solos from Arshad and Tohpati, the latter's effects-laden axe breathing fire one moment and spacy the next. But even when the keys, guitar, bass, and metallic percussion accents knot up or jab outward, those complementary kendangs (which Afro-Caribbean and Latin jazz fans would likely find akin to congas), hard right and left in the stereo field, drive the music forward more understatedly than a conventional jazz or rock drum set, giving simakDialog's fusion an utterly unique, intimate flavor.

Nearly matching the opener in length, "Lain Parantina" maintains an easy groove under Arshad's Rhodes solo but moves from funk toward freer rhythms and finally abrupt chord blasts after Tohpati takes charge; the tune is bracketed by more tightly executed themes leavened by lightness and melodicism. Some have noted Canterbury elements in simakDialog's sound -- unsurprising for a MoonJune band -- and echoes of '70s Canterbury stalwarts like Gilgamesh and Hatfield and the North can be heard in Arshad's compositions and the group's appealing instrumental voicings, even as the rhythmic foundation comes from an entirely different place. The lovely, winding themes of "What Would I Say" and "As Far as It Can Be (Jaco)" could easily have been penned by Gilgamesh's Alan Gowen, while a touch of drama and even regality imbues "For Once and Never," with a melody reminiscent of Gowen and perhaps Dave Stewart or Phil Miller. A somewhat surprising left turn arrives with "Harmologic," an obvious tip of the hat to Ornette Coleman; Arshad and Tohpati break the theme into overlapping fragments and keep it within earshot during their simultaneous improvisations, while the meandering walking bass and circular kendang rhythms erase notions of beginnings and ends.

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