Marking their twentieth year on a music map, electric gamelan fusioneers spill blood and honey on the tracks.
To those who’ve been following this Indonesian collective – at least, since they made their international debut at MoonJune with 2007’s "Patahan" – the title of their latest offering is telling on two levels: the band’s sixth album, “The 6th Story” also marks their return to English wording on a record’s cover. Their music is multi-layered and cross-cultural, too, as jazz rock gets grafted on traditional styles more pronouncedly than it was on 2009’s "Demi Masa" which first pushed a red-hued artwork forward to show how full-blooded it all is. One can read as much in the somewhat predatory chamber echo of “Harmologic” where “harm” and “harmony” feed logic in equal measure befitting the gamelan principle of instruments built and tuned together in such a way that none of them can’t be taken away or replaced.
This complex tapestry, soft and enveloping, is unfurled in “Stepping In” which spreads Riza Arshad’s Fender Rhodes over three percussion threads – two Sundanese kendang drums taking a stereo channel each – for Tohpati’s mercurial guitar to sneak in and out of the pattern and, ultimately, usurp it with its dance from strum to riffs and back again. Yet exotica fades away once ivories jut out their sparky fusion bas-relief and float on Adhitya Pratama’s punchy bass that also protrudes gently through the vibes-oiled “As Far As It Can Be (Jaco)” while “What Would I Say” melds tentative organ with oscillations on its unison bedrock. In its turn, “Common League” explores cosmic sonics in the space between light synthesizers and a six-string supported by a heavy bottom-end, whereas “Lain Parantina” hints at Beethoven’s “Für Elise” but stops and veers off the quote, and into the folk-infused funk, before the recognition sets in.
“5, 6” is wild, if well-grounded in its rhythmic ebb and flow, although not as excitingly resonating as “For Once And Never” that carries its wares further eastward, from European Gothic to the spicy swamps of Sumatra and Bali as imagined by a westerner, but “Ari” makes the two worlds meet thanks to piano exerting its elegance on the classical bebop terrain and baring all the variety of the band’s progressive roots. A story in itself, worth hearing again and again, it’s a perfect finale for the whole of this finesse.