All About Jazz : Dwiki Dharmawan – Rumah Batu

June 13, 2018

All About Jazz : Dwiki Dharmawan – Rumah Batu

There are, in these times of reduced music sales, fewer and fewer models that help niche labels to survive. In the case of New York-based MoonJune Records and its intrepid head Leonardo Pavkovic, the path to survival seems increasingly more about doing what he does for the love of it, and less about fiduciary gain (much as he would, like anyone, love to reap some financial benefits for his hard work). That said, few labels could not only survive but, as MoonJune has over the past two-or-three years, actually thrive and expand based upon nothing more than one man’s passionate love of music and those who make it. MoonJune may never have a million-seller, but its profile has certainly grown, even as Pavkovic has looked even farther across the globe to locate top-drawer musicians, astutely introduced them to other world-class players, and put them together in a studio to watch the sparks fly.

Few labels, in fact, beyond the much larger ECM Records, have managed to bring so many diverse musicians from seemingly disparate backgrounds and cultures together to make music so glorious, so magical and so seemingly effortlessly groundbreaking. This, as it supports the adage of music being a universal language that brings people together, comes at a time when there are far too many factors conspiring to sow division.

The past couple of years have found Pavkovic increasingly parking himself and his growing cadre of musicians at La Casa Murada, the studio located in Catalunya, Spain that is the namesake for one of the label’s first releases recorded at the studio, The Stone House (2017), a superb, incomparable outing featuring guitarist Mark Wingfield, touch guitarist Markus Reuter, bassist Yaron Stavi and drummer Asaf Sirkis, all of whom have been making increasingly regular appearances on MoonJune.

Stavi and Sirkis, who have become one of the label’s rhythm sections of choice for their pliant ability to work their way into any musical context, appear on Dwiki Dharmawan’s even more ambitious and expansive Rumah Batu, just as they did on the pianist’s extraordinary Pasar Klewar (MoonJune, 2016). The Indonesian keyboardist’s sophomore MoonJune release, following his more fusion-heavy 2015 label debut, So Far, So Close, was largely a trio affair, albeit with a bevy of guests including, in addition to a variety of Indonesian musicians, MoonJune staples like vocalist Boris Savoldelli and guitarists Wingfield and Nicolas Meier.

Rumah Batu, on the other hand, is centered around an unusually configured core quintet that includes, in addition to Dharmawan, Stavi and Sirkis, two musicians making their first appearances on the label: Parisian-based Vietnamese guitarist Nguyen Le, whose own discography, including 2005’s Walking On the Tiger’s Tail and 2008’s Fragile Beauty, for Munich’s Act Music label, demonstrates a similar pan-cultural mindset; and Spanish electric bassist Carles Benavent, perhaps best known for his periodic collaborations over the decades with keyboardist Chick Corea, including Rhumba Flamenco (Chick Corea Productions, 2005) and The Ultimate Adventure (Stretch, 2006).

Dharmawan recorded the music for Rumah Batu live off the floor at La Casa Murada with this core quintet, and it doesn’t take long for the sparks to begin flying on the opening “Rintak Rebana,” where guest Sa’at Syah’s sulking (southeast Asian bamboo ring flute), overdubbed later at a Jakarta studio, renders Dharmawan’s cross-cultural leanings crystal clear in the song’s rubato introduction. But as soon as Sirkis’ combination of conventional drums, cajón and hand percussion create a vibrant mood changer into the composition’s central theme, it becomes clear that there are plenty of other touchstones at play, most notably that of Chick Corea, whose percussive approach to piano is but one of Dharmawan’s many influential touchstones.

A knotty yet eminently singable theme, played in unison by Benavent, Lê and Syah, also speaks to Dharmawan’s ability, like Corea, to shape long-form yet memorable melodies, as the piece moves into a solo section driven, first, by Lê’s blend of volume pedal and delay-driven electric guitar. The guitarist sets an atmospheric tone that quickly changes as he moves into a searing passage filled with whammy bar-inflected, light-speed runs that set a tremendously high bar for an album that’s only in its opening few minutes. Benavent follows, his electric bass also heavily processed with a harmonizer and more to create a solo just as electrifying, but in a significantly different way, all the while anchored by Stavi’s upright bass and Sirkis’ cymbal-heavy support. Dharmawan closes the solo section with a masterfully virtuosic display that quickly dissipates overt references to Corea, as the pianist builds to a fever pitch, pushed and pulled by Stavi and Sirkis, who both punctuate and embellish the pianist’s combination of cross-register phrases and dynamic chordal injections. Dharmawan’s use of various motifs to push the solo ever forward renders this truly one of the most exciting piano solos heard this (or, without exaggeration, any) year.