In Indonesia there are some figures that without a lot of showy talk have contributed to the rise of a dynamic Indonesian jazz scene. Riza Arshad is widely recognised for his time, creativity, efforts and devotion to that cause.

A professional musician from the age of 15, Riza later pioneered many activities, such as workshops and curated evenings that gave room to the younger generation of jazz musicians to come to the fore. He worked tirelessly motivating them to create their own compositions and arrangements so that their music brought a special Indonesian colour to jazz music, not only here, but also worldwide.

A constant in his career has been the band which he founded in 1992, simakDialog. Constantly evolving, the group released seven albums, and played in countries as varied as Nepal and the USA. Local and international music critics and writers were universal in their praise.

Riza Arshad, our friend, teacher, and ‘brother in jazz’ passed away on Friday, January 13, 2017.

Companions in the music world and various media have been working together to organise a tribute evening called ‘Simak Dialog: Riza Arshad Berkarya‘. This event will be held on Wednesday February 22, 2017, at Gedung Kesenian (Jakarta Arts Building) in Pasar Baru.

•  simakDialog (Tohpati, Indro Hardjodikoro, Azfansadra Karim, Budhy Haryono, Adhitya Pratama, Endang Ramdan, Erlan Suwardana, Cucu Kurnia, Sri Hanuraga, Rudy Zulkarnaen, Mian Tiara)
•  W/H/A/T (Sri Hanuraga, Sandy Winarta, Indrawan Tjhin)
•  Tuslah (Sri Hanuraga, Azfansadra Karim, Elfa Zulham Syah)
•  Trio Gitar (Oele Pattiselanno, Dewa Budjana, Gerald Situmorang)
•  Trioscapes (Aksan Sjuman, Yance Manusama, David Manuhutu, Dony Koeswinarno)
•  Serambi Jazz Kolektiv (Mery Kasiman, Irsa Destiwi, Gerald Situmorang, Arnanado Putra, Rahel Pradika, Iwan Paul, Indra Bayu Rusady, Nicolaus Edwin, Ivan Nestorman)
•  Kroncong Tenggara (Ubiet, Dian HP, Dimawan Krisnowo Adji, Dony Koeswinarno, Jalu Pratidina, Adi Darmawan, Arief Suseno, Maryono)
•  Indra Lesmana Reborn (Indra Lesmana, AS Mates, Aksan Sjuman, Arief Setiadi, Iwang Gumiwan, Dewa Budjana)
MCs: Widyasena Sumadio & Otti Jamalus

Going out, or as in my case staying out, on a rainy Friday night in Jakarta is asking to be stuck in horrendous traffic. Just sometimes, though, it’s worthwhile as Friday 28th October was to prove.

Nesia Ardi had been kind enough to make sure that I and my two young companions, both looking to make music of their own, had our ‘free tickets’. There seemed to be no other way to “grab” them. Arriving early we were able to wander around the shiny lobby area, noting that bottled water and a strange coffee drink, and snacks of sliced fruit, which were more than welcome at the end of our lengthy day, were also there to be ‘grabbed’.

R. has a passion for singing jazz and is on the bottom rung of the jazz ladder, so I introduced her to Nesia, who was later to receive the iCan ‘Artist of the Year’ Award, and well deserved too.  With selfies taken and connections made, we found our way to comfortable seats with ample legroom. (Note: This was my first visit, and for those two reasons, I hope there will be many more.)

The evening proper began with Ican Wallad introducing his board members  – and all these years I’d been thinking that iCan Studio was so named because of iPod or Obama’s election catch phrase of “Yes we can!”.

Indra Aziz started the music section of the evening by leading the assembled audience in a rendition of Indonesia Raya. Given that he is the vocal coach on Indonesian Idol and other TV singing contests, it sounded fine.

Bass player, producer and iCan board member Barry Likumahuwa then introduced the Indonesia All Star (sic), who included guitarist Oele Pattiselno , ‘Pop’, trombone player Benny Likumahuwa, singer Margie Segers, Jeffrey Tahalele on double bass, and pianist Fanny Kuncoro. Benny Mustafa is in the middle of this photo, informally dressed as befits the drummer on the seminal album Djanger Bali recorded in 1967 by the original Indonesian All Stars.

Pak Benny spent a minute or so getting into his groove while the others settled into position and then they swung into action and Ms. Segers sang Almost Like Being In Love, the Lerner-Loewe song from 1947. And my, what a powerful voice she has for such a petite lady. The second song was Semua Bisa Bilang, a hit for her in 1975. What I particularly liked was how Benny L’s trombone floated harmoniously over her singing while Pak Oele’s guitar floated under it.  It was music of a bygone era, perhaps, but performed with the love these veterans of Indonesia’s jazz scene have for it. That was much appreciated from the audience.

Next on stage was Tesla Manaf clutching a small green solid guitar. I hadn’t seen him or heard him play for over a year,  but I still expected that he would play something from A Man’s Relationship With His Fragile Area, his album with an international release on the NYC based MoonJune records album.

Yes, he played as per usual focussed on his guitar, not looking at us, but then produced washes of sounds which kept us totally entranced. Looking down from my seat I could see that except for a couple of gossip-mongers heads were still, as mine was. It was a rare spell that he cast. We were sucked in and taken wherever the music and our imaginations lead us.

Applause was hesitant at first, because we didn’t want to leave our trances? I certainly could have listened to a lot more, but it had been that kind of day. Tesla told me afterwards that he hadn’t got a new album, so if those who were there wish to recapture something of the mood, then seek out Pat Metheny playing his Pikasso guitar, Al di Meola, Vini Reilly (Durutti Column), or Robert Fripp-Brian Eno.

That music is in stark contrast to what came next from Nita Aartsen.  According to her Twitter feed, Ms. Nita is “a classically trained pianist who is striving to create a new paradigm in music, mixing Classical, Jazz, Latin and Eastern music.

She sat at the back of the stage at a grand piano, while at the very front a percussionist sat on cushions with an array of kendangs and faced her.  A double bass player was behind him offering a powerful, if swamped, underbeat and a trumpeter who stood immobile behind a microphone adding a sweet flavour.

What we heard certainly presented her “new paradigm”: snatches of Mozart and Sunda tunes with Cuban rhythms was what I deciphered above the over-miked kendangs. However, due to constant and irregular shifts it was fidgety with little cohesion or flow to carry us along into the realms which the other artists presented to us.  It was a relief when the bass player had the opportunity to take a solo, it was not only something he richly deserved, but the coherence we, the audience, sorely needed.

Rifka Aola writes

Having been chosen as the iCan Freedoms Festival Artist of 2016, Nesia Ardi and her friend and piano accompanist Irsa Destiwi were on last. Unfortunately, the hour was late and what had been a half empty hall before became even emptier.

Nesia sang three songs, two her own compositions – Undefined and Minya, about a cat – and the standard Don’t Put Sugar In My Coffee.

I especially liked Undefined, a song about a boy and girl falling in love but …

I felt that Nesia was singing to me!

Nesia Ardi: vocals
Andy Gomez: piano
Jesse Mates: drums
Odi Purba: acoustic bass
Nial Djuliarso: piano
Indra Dauna: trumpet

IndoJazzia first ‘discovered’ Nesia Medyanti Ardi during the jam session which followed Erik Sondhy’s album launch at Paviliun 28 in South Jakarta back in June. What impressed us then was her energy and her mastery of scat singing, as ‘pioneered’ by the still revered Ella Fitzgerald.

Her infectious enthusiasm enervated the other musicians and captivated the audience, yet Nesia didn’t come across as a diva wannabe, someone who’ll pop up on infotainment TV channels any time soon.

Her self-released album Look For The Silver Lining, with Robert MR on guitar. has seven tracks, six ‘standards’ and one, Hello Lady, Goodbye, she wrote herself, which this reviewer prefers.

I told her this in an email exchange, and she wrote the following: Actually I do have more original compositions and I will record them someday. For me singing jazz is a passion, I don’t expect many people to buy my CD or to pay a lot to see me singing; the only thing I really want is just to sing, not to impress but to touch and move people’s hearts because that’s what jazz does to me.

Passion and positivity: two qualities to be admired and supported.

They were what Nesia offered the invited audience at her showcase on Monday 15th August at iCanStudioLive in Kebayoran Baru, close to Jakarta’s business district.  Nesia’s gig was a part of this year’s iCan Freedoms Festival, a series of 17 shows which ends on 17th August, the date in 1945 when Sukarno issued the country’s Declaration of Independence, and celebrated every year with flag raising, community games and music festivals.

It seemed natural, then that Nesia started her set with Rayuan Pulau Kelapa, a ‘patriotic’ song about the beauty of Indonesia written by Ismail Marzuki in the 1940s. I was reminded of Nick Mahamit, the first post-war Indonesian jazz pianist of note. After the show  Nesia told me that the original arrangements of Marzuki’s songs at the time were “highly influenced by jazz and Melayu music.”

The second song was A-Tisket, A-Tasket, originally a 19th century American children’s nursery song, but made popular by Ella Fitzgerald in 1938. Nesia told us that Ella is her “favourite singer – ever”, and while she demonstrated her love of scat singing Andy Gomez rocked at the piano, often using his right hand to play the lower keys, with his left crossing over to play the melody lines.

The next three songs were Nesia compositions. Trumpet player Indra Dauna was introduced for the first. You and I, Undefined. He had a mellow fluidity and a tonal feel, an ECM quality which reminded this reviewer very much of the late Kenny Wheeler.

This was followed by Nesia demonstrating through iCan, that she certainly can scat sing. Nesia later told me that she imitates many music instruments such as trombone, trumpet, guitar, percussion, and that she never thinks about what to do next. She just listens to the chord changes and improvises through it.

In other words, she ‘goes with the flow’ and her heart.

Noted jazz pianist Nial Djuliarso replaced Andy for the next song, So Long, Goodbye, which was carefully controlled with less improvisation, yet thoroughly engaging, and recalled the work of England’s finest singer Norma Winstone,

Of particular note was the contribution of all the group to the evening and, indeed, we  the audience. Nesia held us all with her presence, yet gave space to each of the group who were happy to shine. and even ‘quip’ with each other, musically speaking. This was exemplified in the classic blues song Don’t Put Sugar In My Coffee which featured a scat conversation between Nesia and pianist Indra recalling Bobby McFerrin, and a lengthy drum solo from Jesse Mates which garnered much applause.

Next up was the Duke Ellington song It Don’t Mean A Thing If It Ain’t Got The Swing. It swung, with inventive piano from Andy Gomez, and a striding acoustic bass from the consistent Odi Purba. Nesia whistled a solo, and we all applauded.

My Cat followed, with more Bill Evans piano styling, and so we came to the last number, a Nesia solo, no band, just the audience. Nesia began singing Bobby McFerrin’s Don’t Worry  … and we gladly sang back “Be Happy”.

And we were; Nesia had sung and “touched our hearts”, while staying true to the origins of jazz as an entertainment. The range of jazz styles we heard, ably and joyfully supported by her accompanying friends augurs well for the future. There are few current Indonesian jazzers who provide links to the music’s past, yet embrace the present.  This was not an evening of nostalgia ….

So we demanded an encore and got one. Nial Djuliarso returned to piano. “Do you know Honeysuckle Rose?” she asked him. He nodded yes, and we were treated to a swinging version of the Fats Waller classic, with a relaxed Nial.

An excellent evening all round, and IndoJazzia looks forward to reliving it when the videos get uploaded to YouTube … and here.

Photo: Mark Heyward

Review by Arlo Hennings

JL Sunset, which winds through the heart of neon-lit Seminyak, Bali was in full swing on 9th August, 2016. Your humble jazz fan was on the back of a motorbike en route to Erik Sondhy’s album launch show at the up market warung, La Sacilia.

I had a ringside seat at the candle lit media table. Before Erik stepped onto the stage to deliver his solo piano set, his local manager Jappy Sanger took the microphone to welcome everyone, and then asked me to do the same as the International Manager for Erik’s label, Indojazzia Musik.

Formalities done with, Erik sat at the piano and stared at the keys for a minute or so before speaking – almost as if he was making himself a transparent receptacle for the music spirits to come forth and join him.

“I never know what I am going to play because I live in the moment,” he announced. “This song is called For My Mother.”

From the packed room. Erik went into another world, some may call it the ‘zone’, some the ‘muse’ and Zenists a ‘non-place’. Wherever Erik went when his fingers began their dancing ritual on the black and white keys, the audience was spellbound. When he’d finished, the room erupted into a roar of applause, Erik stood, and bowed. “I am going to play every song on my new CD, Abbey Road Sessions Vol.1.”

From there, he fooled the audience with a romping version of the right hand, left hand, sonic leap frog, London Blues, which demonstrated Sondhy’s wide ranging grasp of styles from ragtime to modern pop. For the next 50 minutes, no one talked as they ate their dinner, and that was something thing I found unique about this show. We, the audience, actually paid close attention to his music, and honored Erik with our unbroken silence.

Having listened to the album many times, I came away having witnessed Sondhy take his playing to an even higher level of energy and execution. By the end of his solo show this jazz fan had come to the conclusion that Bali and the world had another jazz pianist besides Joey Alexander they can call their own.

And his name is Erik Sondhy.

The album is available here, and there are six more tracks as outstanding as this one …


As we don’t (yet?) have photos and/or video from the show, this is Erik speaking before playing at the Jakarta launch on 30th June.

A Sketchy Rambling Review

I Know You Well Miss Clara (IKYWMC or Clara for short) are known quite well by this reviewer: I’m their pet western groupie. I first didn’t see them play at @America in 2011, was blown away by their first album succinctly entitled Chapter One, and then wrote a profile of guitarist Reza Ryan in which he credits his classical guitar mentor at Yogya ISI (Institute of Arts) Royke B. Koapaha for inviting him to join SAdA, a prog-jazz group which played several festivals.

I closed my profile with the comment that “in displaying a ‘can do, why not’ attitude, the group has a refreshing curiosity which augurs well for Chapter Two and beyond.”

Naturally that lead me to catch them at a few more gigs both here in Jakarta and last year in Solo.  We also linked up at the televised AMI Awards extravaganza because Chapter One was nominated in the prog-rock category. In the event, guitarist Iwan Hasan, a veteran from Discus and Sea Serpent was the deserved winner.

The most recent time was at last December’s Kota Tua Jazz day, which was followed by their live appearance on the state’s TV station TVRI with guest vocalist Tanya Diaputri (video)

By now you’re probably asking why I haven’t yet reviewed Saturday’s gig. The answer’s simple: my notes were few, it was dark and their hour fifty minutes or so flew past because we were so rapt.

For this gig. Clara’s core trio of guitarist/composer Reza Ryan, Adi Wijaya, keyboards, and Alfiaj Akbar were joined by Pak Royke, bass, and for two numbers by Iwan Hasan on guitar.

Tracks played.
All compositions by Reza Ryan, except 5 by Royke.
* from Chapter One
1. Conversation *
Very Canterbury, esp. National Health with Phil Miller (aka Reza Ryan) on guitar and Dave Stewart (aka Adi Wijaya) on Korg keyboard.
2. Dangerous Kitchen *
The four, Reza, Adi, Royke on bass and Alfiah Akbar on drums, went their separate ways together.
3. ABC Islands
Reza started playing some ‘toys’, one of which was a siter (a Javanese zither), which he played with his right hand while his left held his guitar. An ethereal track, with Royke’s bass leading, it reminded me of a Chinese melody.
4. Betapa Sulit Untuk Gembira (by Royke)
Iwan Hasan joined the group and seated in the middle played his harp guitar, with Reza on his right and Royke on his left.

The interplay was spellbinding. At the end came one of those very rare gig occasions when we, the audience, were left stunned into absolute silence for five? … ten? … seconds before applauding. My notes consist of just one word ‘Magic‘.
In the absence of an audio record, check out this video of Iwan playing his harp-guitar in 2006.
5. Reverie *
Twin guitar leads, with Iwan recapturing his rock star poses.
To see what I mean, watch this video from 1999.
6. The Sacred Circle Ritual Dance
A quieter number: Alfi played the drums with his hands
7. Love Letter From Canada *
Adi played the grand piano: a semi familiar, near ‘classical’ melody: very calming.
8. The Hunt For Zero Point
Reza goes wild, plays with toys, produces feedback
Royke and Alfi in synch … an express train awaiting derailment.

9. A Dancing Girl From The Planet Marsavishnu Named After The Love *
Reza had problems remembering the title of Clara’s perennial favourite.
Adi (finally) could be heard playing the intro, and then the different time signatures set off.

As I wrote above, I’ve seen Clara live a number of times. That’s because I like surprises in my live music listening. Clara surprise themselves at times, and that is the joy of their gigs. The three core members have known each other for years and support each other in their playing. Pak Royke was the extra ingredient, the third bassist I’ve heard in Clara, and for me the most interesting ‘musically’ in the sense that he wasn’t just part of the rhythm section.

I view Clara as one of the most interesting Indonesian progressive avant-garde jazz-prog-rock groups because their music has few boundaries: collectively they transcend their nationalism so their music cannot be called ‘Indonesian’.

Is it commercial? Yes, but not for those who like variations on what’s gone before. For those who appreciate true creativity, Chapter Two promises to be a ‘must have’ album.
A final note: In order to produce that album, a crowdfunding page has been set up. I’ve already contributed: will you?
A final final note: Reza has informed me that he was playing a siter on ABC Islands, not ‘an electric thumb piano’.

Terry Collins

In July 2014, ‘little’ Joey Alexander, who needs no introduction, played a number of sets at the Copenhagen Jazz Festival 2014.

Song list (and writers) :
Softly As In A Morning Sunrise (Sigmund Romberg/Oscar Hammerstein II)
Eclypso (Tommy Flanagan)
Lush Life (Billy Strayhorn)
Inner Urge (Joe Henderson)
Contemplation From A Mountain Top (Niels Lan Doky)
Round Midnight (Thelonious Monk)
Giant Steps (John Coltrane)
It Might As Well Be Spring (Richard Rogers)
Cherokee (Ray Noble)

This is the video of the set

And here is the downloadable audio.

This is the text of the only English-language review (to our knowledge) of the gig in Ubud on Sunday 18th October. It was published in the paper edition of the Jakarta Post today here.

Mark Heyward (Contributor/Ubud)

A concert in Ubud, Bali, brought together two leading jazz-fusion guitarists, Dewa Budjana from Indonesia and John McLaughlin from the UK.

The title of the concert – Duaji and Guruji — was apt. In guitarist Dewa Bujana’s words, “Duaji is what people call me in Balinese and means someone who’s become a father to their children, while Guruji means a guru, a teacher, a role model.”

Dewa, aged 52, is well-known for his career with rock group Gigi and in Indra Lesmana’s ethno-jazz group Java Jazz,  and for his solo jazz albums.

John McLaughlin, now 73, began his career in 1962 playing blues and jazz-beat. He was also a session player for the Rolling Stones, among other bands. In 1969 he moved to the USA, where he played with Tony Williams’s Lifetime and with Miles Davis on the seminal jazz-rock albums In A Silent Way and Bitches Brew.

McLaughlin became the Master, Guruji, with the release in 1971 of the first Mahavishnu Orchestra album, The Inner Mounting Flame, which has influenced scores of musicians since.

Forty years later, and Dewa Budjana has that same power to move audiences with spiritually-infused jazz-fusion.
Dewa’s many albums reflect his Balinese Hindu heritage. Hinduism is another connection with McLaughlin, who was given the name Mahavishnu by his yoga teacher Sri Chinmoy.

Ubud’s Arma Museum provided the perfect venue for the Oct. 18th concert. Adjacent to the Balinese art gallery is an open field bordered with tall trees and a stage with a Balinese temple backdrop. For this occasion, a huge translucent, multi-layered screen was installed.

The sounds and scents of Bali filtered through: a distant cacophony of barking kampung dogs, a chorus of cicadas high in the trees, clatter and chatter from the bar at the rear, a whiff of kretek cigarettes, sandalwood incense and frangipane. Above, the night sky threatened rain and somewhere among the clouds a waxing crescent moon drifted.

Following an excellent warm-up by the Bali Guitar Club on a small side stage, the lights in the main arena dimmed and a glittering night sky was projected onto the backdrop. Dewa Budjana strolled onto the stage wearing a Balinese udeng (head cloth), picked up his guitar, and the music began.

From the outset, the mood was relaxed: Dewa was playing to a home crowd. The band slipped comfortably into the groove: Martin Siahaan, a keyboard player from Sumatra; Shadu Rasjadi, a Jakarta-based six-string bass player; bamboo flautist Saat Syah, sporting a Kalimantan Dayak cap and jacket; and Balinese drummer, Yandi Andaputra, just nineteen.

“I used to play with his mum,” explained Dewa, referring to Yandi. “She was the singer in my high school band.”

The music was drawn from Dewa’s several jazz albums, each piece a statement in its own language, each exploring its own musical themes, but each blending into a whole – as if the evening were a story, a narrative, comprised of a series of chapters.

As the band played, the screen behind the performers came alive with shifting images, early films of Balinese village life, rippling images of batik, of Balinese carving in stone and timber, geometric patterns that flowed and flashed with the music, an image of the temple backdrop that created a childlike blurring of reality and fantasy. This was an immersive experience.

When the pattern for each piece was bedded down, room for soloing was found. Employing a range of instruments, traditional and experimental, and a range of techniques, at times turning the instrument on its end, Saat Syah’s flute solos were exceptional.

Dewa’s own solos were as extraordinary as they were understated. And the whole thing was underpinned by Yandi’s solid yet equally playful rhythm, occasionally breaking out into showy solos.

John McLaughlin’s band, The 4th Dimension, was a delight: Paris-based five-string bassist Étienne M’Bappé from Cameroon, drummer Ranjit Barot from Mumbai in India and pianist/second drummer Gary Husband from Leeds in the UK. “Near where I was born in Yorkshire,” McLaughlin said.

McLaughlin’s signature guitar style set the tone from the beginning of his set, a thick, heavy tone with rapid-fire bursts of melody. The guitarist strode about the stage in a no-nonsense kind of way, at times facing the rear, giving directions to the band, or riffing with the bassist or keyboard player and, at other times, leading from the front. Like Dewa’s set, the pieces were full of drama, full of energy, color, passion and surprise, a mix of old and new.

Across the generations and from opposite sides of the planet, this meeting was a natural fit, music was the common language. It was a lost and enchanted evening, a night for the heart not the head. Duaji and Guruji, the Father and his Master, played together under a Balinese sky: two stars, a light at the edge of the world.

— Terry Collins contributed to this article.

Toba Dream, Jakarta, 29.5.15

Van Java: a young band with bags of surprises; guitar and bass, backed with thunderous drums, took us out of our comfort zone. With Biondi on vocals for some tunes, faint echoes of Renaissance, yet distinctly unfamiliar. Worth watching them grow.

IKYWMC: Down to a trio for this gig, Adi on keyboards and Reza on guitar effortlessly shared the bass duties. Amazing synergy, sustained creativity. ‘Marsavishnu(video) has a life of its own, reflecting Reza’s “distorted reality”, with drummer Alfi ever quiet off stage, in the zone on it. Another “effing fantastic” set, guys!

Keenan Nasution: forty years after seminal album ‘Guruh Gypsy’, proved that good prog-rock lives on. For some, judging by the loud cheers, this was nostalgia. For younger progressive musicians, this was where your Indonesian rock heritage came from.

We are already looking forward to ProgNite 3.