Listen Up!

Mention jazz and images of great musicians like Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis and Louis Armstrong immediately spring to mind. Our view of this musical genre has long been dominated by Western acts, so the recent performance by Indonesian jazz group, simakDialog with its ambitious fusion of East and West was like the proverbial breath of fresh air. Kicking off the Dewan Filharmonik Petronas (DFP)’s International Jazz series on February 4 and 5, simakDialog also had the distinction of being the first Indonesian jazz group to perform at this distinguished venue.

simakDialog, which means “to listen carefully to the dialogue” was formed in 1993, and is currently in its second incarnation. The present line-up consists of all new members with the exception of leader-keyboardist Riza Arshad and guitarist Tohpati. The latest additions to the group are bassist Adhitya Pratama, drummer Budhy Haryono (who is also a founding member of popular Indonesian pop/rock band Gigi) as well as kendangists or traditional percussionists Jalu Pratidina and Taufan Siswadi. Their performance in Kuala Lumpur marks the first outing for the group’s new line-up.

The group has a strong following in its native land of Indonesia and has participated in many jazz events in Indonesia including Jak-Jazz (the Jakarta Jazz Festival) from 1994 to 1997, and the 31-year-old Jazz Goes to Campus series. With two albums under their belt, namely Lukisan (1996) and Baur (1999), the group is currently working on a third, yet untitled, album that will feature their new line-up and sound.

While the original simakDialog used to play very much ECM-oriented* material, Riza describes the new approach as unconventional, possessing a different rhythm and colour from that of Western jazz. He aims to create a unique brand of jazz with a distinct Indonesian flavour – marrying predominantly Western Java traditional percussive elements with European jazz influences.

“Jazz is very universal and has become a world culture,” says Riza, “We want to share the beauty of our culture with the rest of the world.”

For their performance at the DFP, simakDialog premiered six new compositions alongside two songs taken from their old albums. Appearing on stage in traditional batik sarongs, the group stood out in contrast to the formally clad audience members.

The opening track, This Spirit, was a light, easy-going tune, although it would have fared better with a shorter piano improvisation by Riza. Things picked up considerably with Throwing Words and All in a Day, where the drummer and kendangists took centre stage to create an infectious beat. The latter track featured a delightful percussive exchange between Jalu and Budhy making it the highlight of the first set, which ended on a quiet note with Hope That Never Lasts.

After the intermission, the group chose to continue along the slow vein with the mid-tempo One Has To Be, before bringing up the pace a little with the catchy Sampan. Then, as if sensing the audience’s growing restlessness, the group turned up the tempo with Kata Hati and Bright Tomorrow, bringing the evening to a close on a rather vigorous note.

While there were some inspiring moments during the performance, most of the freestyle sections were a little too lengthy and, at times self-indulgent. Although they played well, the group seemed to have forgotten that they were performing in front of an audience. Riza himself had mentioned earlier during a press conference that the pieces were improvisational by nature and the track lengths depended on the mood that the musicians were in. Perhaps they should have taken into account the audience’s mood as well.

Most of the tracks were still heavily tinged with European jazz elements, a clear sign that the group has yet to find the right balance between East and West. It was a good effort, nonetheless. Teething problems aside, simakDialog look like they are well on their way towards achieving their goal of taking Indonesian jazz to the world.

*ECM is an independent music label that is well known for its extensive jazz catalogue. To find out more about the band go to


First Published: 11.03.2002 on Kakiseni

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