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(70:00, Moonjune Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. Forever-1 14:01 2. Forever-2 6:46 3. Not So Far-1 7:42 4. Not So Far-2 9:11 5. Northern People-1 2:28 6. Northern People-2 3:41 7. Northern People-3 3:46 8. To Elders 9:06 9. Being Away 13:06 LINEUP: Riza Arshad – keyboards Tohpati – el. & ac. guitars Adhithya Pratama – bass Endang Ramdan – lead Kendang (+ vocals: 2) Erlan Suwardana – Kendang (+ vocals: 2) With: Mian Tiara – vocals (2) Emy Tata – percussion (2) Dave Lumenta – programming (8)
Prolusion. Led by keyboardist and composer Riza Arshad, Indonesia’s SIMAKDIALOG has existed since 1990. Apart from Discus, this is probably the only widely known prog rock-related outfit to come out from that insular Asian country. “Demi Masa” is their fifth outing to date, only two years separating it from its predecessor “Patahan”, while previously they have been releasing one album every four years. Traditionally, Riza’s keyboard equipment embraces a grand piano, an electric piano (Fender) and a couple of analog synthesizers, such as an Oberheim.
Analysis. I would gladly apply the rule “Upgrade your head if possible; if not possible – upgrade yourself” if it wouldn’t be pointless to do so with the aim of restoring the nerve cells, which is simply because memory and karma are different matters. In short, since my hard drive :-) isn’t as voluminous as to remember in detail anything that I’ve ever heard, etc, I have revisited “Patahan” prior to investigating “Demi Masa” – of course so as to be capable to compare the recordings between themselves. Here is what I got as a result of that experience: The band’s previously chosen course is more consistent than the one they follow here, particularly in style; the jazz metal-inspired arrangements are completely absent; the number of vintage jazz rock-evoking ones has slightly grown, but quite a few of those refer to the mellower side of the genre. The album’s opening track finds the players at their most diverse and adventurous and so is definitely its highlight. While presented as Forever Act-1, this 14-minute epic does not in the least remind of a prequel to its follow-up (which is subtitled Act-1I, to be sure). Instead, this is an absolutely independent – as well as self-sufficient-sounding creation, in itself appearing as a two-part suite. I’m going to name some artists below, and although I wouldn’t suggest to you that you necessarily take those as direct reference points (i.e. as the band’s benefactors whose influences are striking and so on), I am nevertheless more than once reminded of mid-’70s Return To Forever while listening to the epic’s first half, whereas its following contents often bring me back to classic Manfred Mann’s Earth Band (as also does another standout, Not So Far-1 – throughout). The music develops from a solidly energetic, often truly uncompromising Jazz Rock to a bit more restrained, yet still irresistible quasi-Jazz-Fusion, where there is also a fairly long section of relatively atmospheric arrangements which instantly evoke a picture of Manfred Mann (born as Michael Lubowitz), who, by handling a few analog keyboards simultaneously, paints lush melodic lines over a backdrop which is per se a slight support from his bandmates. It is only on these two where the musicians act at their full potential, shining technically, once again proving that their command of their respective instruments is simply excellent. Of the album’s nine tracks only the above Forever Act-II has lyrics-based vocals which, though, while being obviously the most essential part of the two moves that the composition begins with, well, never appear after those. The music seems to be embracing Indonesian ethnic motifs and mellow jazz rock-related features as well as ambient and new age-evoking ones, which would probably add up to World Fusion in total. The six tracks that follow the earlier described three strongly vary in style, though one of those, To Elders, is also very rich in acoustic guitar solos and generally has a lot in common with the ‘song’ – minus the duel between two congas, er, kendangs and the singing, for sure. The largely acoustic Northern People-1 (my third favorite track) reminds me of a gentle and at the same time a bit simplified take on the RIO style. The quasi-jazz-fusion ballad Not So Far-2 is full of bright melodies and would’ve certainly been weightier than a merely acceptable piece if it hadn’t been so long, exceeding 9-minutes in length. The remaining three tracks, however, are much less spectacular and effective. Barring its (very brief) keyboard prelude, Northern People-2 is a trio of acoustic guitar, piano and kendang, which, besides possessing an ethnic feel, has nothing special to it and can only with reservation be labeled as a world fusion creation. There are standard jazz devices (such as swingy moves and unison leads) on quite a few of the above pieces, but they either only appear occasionally or play a secondary role when they do, whilst the 13-minute Being Away is full of those. Finishing the recording, this is a group improvisation on a couple of prepared themes and is too straightforward to please anybody else from the progressive rock camp; hence only those who are exclusively into conventional Jazz Rock will be its ‘target’ audience. Northern People-3, however, is the biggest disappointment. There are only – very slowly moving – synthesizer passages or rather chords and spacey effects, plus a female vocalization which hovers over the drones like a lonely mew over the shoal. Not evoking even an outtake, this opus is in all senses out of place on this recording – not only “in terms of style”, though it is really hard to believe that it’s the same band behind this space-music potboiler that has crafted “Patahan”. Mister Arshad! What was the reason behind including a 100-percent makeweight into an (already very long) outing? To put on it literally everything you had at the time when you recorded it? To try to fill up the disc’s space? Eternal questions in a way…
Conclusion. Compared to its precursor, “Demi Masa” is a fairly big step backwards in the band’s work. Although there are no pauses between the tracks here, the album is stylistically too motley to appear even as a semi-concept creation. If it had contained five tracks (as “Patahan” does by the way), meaning those five that are described first in this review, it would have lasted for about 40 minutes (which is quite enough for a full-length release) and would’ve been a cohesive and generally very good as well as recommendable recording.
VM=Vitaly Menshikov: September 21, 2009
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