CD REVIEW: Dwiki Dharmawan – Rumah Batu


Dwiki Dharmawan – Rumah Batu
(MoonJune Records MJR092.  CD Review by Jon Turney)

Those who like their jazz spiced with different flavours should be sure to sample Dwiki Dharmawan. New to me, the Indonesian keyboard artist and producer has been active since the mid-1980s, and makes music that blends Asian traditions with other idioms in a sometimes heady brew.

This latest release features Dharmawan on acoustic piano with regular collaborators Yaron Stavi on bass and Asaf Sirkis on drums. But we are mostly a long way from jazz piano trio territory. The core ensemble also includes Nguyên Lê on “electric guitar and soundscapes” and Spaniard Carles Benavent on fretless electric bass.

Lê feeds MoonJune records’ penchant for big helpings of guitar soloing, but his soundscapes are prominent too. Add half a dozen guests on a variety of traditional Indonesian percussion, flutes and vocals, and on one track the bamboo instruments of a Jegog gamelan ensemble, and the range of sounds on offer broadens yet further.

The result is a kaleidoscopic brand of fusion, jazz and classical-infused piano workouts clearly in view one minute, then dissolving to yield to flute or vocal passages that lean toward a different tradition and, some of the time, a different tonality. A few tracks sustain a single mood. Dewi Gita’s single melismatic vocal on Impenan centres the melancholic song in a distinctively Indonesian space. More often, the shifting line-ups move swiftly between idioms, along with hefty wodges of old-school fusion (You’d guess Dharmawan encountered the Mahavishnu Orchestra at an impressionable age) inserted in pieces that may begin in a more reflective mode.

It doesn’t entirely work. Some of the shifts seem arbitrary. There are a few longeurs – unfortunately on the most ambitious, or at any rate longest, offering, the almost half hour, two-part Rumah Batu Suite. But this is generally thoughtful, well-realised music with some refreshingly unfamiliar ingredients. For me, one to return to occasionally rather than revisit often, but well worth investigating for all that.

Jon Turney writes about jazz, and other things, from Bristol. jonturney.co.uk.  Twitter: @jonWturney 

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