Way back in 2010, one of MoonJune Records’ many Indonesian guitarist discoveries gave us his band Ethnomission’s first glorious outing Save The Planet. Released on 1st January 2017 comes this second offering from Ethnomission HQ, the superbly exploratory Mata Hati. Led by master fusion guitarist Tohpati Ario Hutomo, better known by only his first name, the band make gloriously steamy symphonies underpinned by native percussion over which Tohpati goes from the smoothest of fluid leads, all the way to coruscating breaks that have all the power of an irate elephant on the rampage.
That Tohpati is so stylistically diverse should come as no surprise when you know that he is also part of a fiery jazz rock power trio by the name of Tohpati Bertiga, and is also a lynchpin for the wonderful modern electric ethno-jazz vehicle simakdialog whose Fender Rhodes magician and leader Riza Arshad tragically passed on not so long ago.
The scene is set by the dramatic and filmic opener Janger where the band is backed by the Czech National Symphony Orchestra. This looks an odd pairing on paper, but it works, and I wonder how it came about. Especially satisfying is the contrasting freeform guitar and ethnic percussion section the middle of the tune, which lifts the piece from its otherwise slightly Hollywood vibe. Some fluid bass work from Indro Hardjodikoro is the highlight of Tanah Emas (“Gold soil”) while Tohpati goes off on another of his Metheny-inspired flights of liquid fancy.
The delightful musical sculptures moulded by the band, while often mellifluous, always manage to stay just the edgy side of easy listening, which can be a trait of some of the Indonesian cool jazz that MoonJune unearths. The tumbling Pelog Rock for instance, canters along at a pace and is never going to rest long enough to become “easy”, quite the opposite in fact, as Tohpati shows off his heavier Bertiga side with some fascinating and fiery lead breaks. Look out for that charging elephant!
The title track is a sectional affair that marries complex arrangements with a smoother section and some near-improv ambience featuring more stellar bass work, all with the deftness of touch we come to expect from the band’s highly experienced leader. Another dash through dense undergrowth, full of masterful syncopation sees the hunt – Berburu – live up to its name, an exciting and fast-paced affair to get your blood pumping. If ever you needed proof that Tohpati knows his way around a fretboard, look no further than the breaks on this tune.
Some of the best extemporisation is on the well funky Reog, where all manner of craziness emanates from Tohpati’s trusty axe. In fact the next track translates as “Pickaxe”, Tohpati’s axe…ahem…chopping away on Pangkur with a musclebound energy, and with the closing Amarah (“Anger”) witnessing an increase in the intensity levels and offering almost math-like screaming sacrifice to the gods, they certainly saved the best until last! Together these three tracks see this fine and varied album out in style.
01. Janger (6:29)
02. Tanah Emas (5:17)
03. Pelog Rock (5:27)
04. Mata Hati (6:36)
05. Berburu (6:42)
06. Rancak (4:33)
07. Reog (6:51)
08. Pangkur (4:32)
09. Amarah (5:01)
Total Time – 51:30
Tohpati – Guitar
Indro Hardjodikoro – Bass
Diki Suwarjiki – Suling Bamboo Flute, Tarompet
Endang Ramdan – Kendang Percussion
Demas Narawangsa – Drums
Czech National Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Michaela Ruzickova (track 1)
Record Label: MoonJune Records
Date of Release: 1st January 2017