Jakarta International Java Jazz Festival 2017: WHEN JAZZ STRIKES BACK

Story By
Jim Gorjy

The three-day annual jazz celebration was back in town, featuring hundreds of jazz musicians from all over the world. The BNI Java Jazz International Festival is always hotly anticipated for being one of the most prestigious music-themed events in Jakarta, if not Indonesia. The rainy weather on the first day was sadly a significant factor in the lesser attendance, yet on the second day there was a full house and the snakeline of a queue to every food stall reflected the situation.

The audience is always an eclectic mix with many characters and lovers of all kinds of jazz mingled and cramped into the show. They are here for the easiness of fusion jazz styles to latin and ethnic jazz fiestas to complex bebop jazz to the untamed jazz-rock noise.

The Fusion Strikes

For those who are keen on easy-listening jazz fusion flashbacks, MEZZOFORTE were the answer. These multinational jazzists (mostly from Scandinavia) presented happy and danceable jazz tunes, centered on saxophone-trumpret agility and rhythm section harmony, as if you were in the summer of jazzfest, you could tell by the outfits they wore. This is their sixth time performing in Jakarta, making them apromoter’s favorite. The Mezz mostly played the friendly jazz songs from their 80’s to 90s golden era, such as Joyride, High Life, Rollercoaster, Garden Party, Blast From The Past, and of course everyone’s favorite Surprise Surprise.

One of the must-see performers was the jammy jazz-blues from the HARVEY MASON QUARTET. Opening with bluesy tune I’ll Drink To That, it exposed the mastery of Perry Hughes on guitar. Kirk Whalum joined the stage on the second tune playing flute, then switched to saxophone on the next. As Kirk was a long time colaborator with Whitney Houston, the quartet performed a tribute to the late singer by playing I Will Always Love You, a solemn saxophone interpretation.Harvey Mason took a drum solo session before the tune Johnny Comes Marchin Home blasted off where the band really raised the roof. Dee Dee Bridgewater was scheduled as guest appearance but wasn’t able to join the show due to an ankle accident 10 minutes before the show started.

At midnight, long-haired jazz guitarist STANLEY JORDAN, backed by two Japanese buddies on drum set and bass took to the stage. Stanley is an acclaimed guitar master of the tapping technique. A style of his own invention and he is a one of a kind guitar instrumental player who has influenced many guitarists of all genres. He opened the set with the song Eleanor Rigby, a soft yet aggressive interpretation. On the second song, a much more bluesy tune, he wonderfully played tap guitar with his left hand while the right hand was simultaneously on keyboard. Then, playing a fast solo guitar without a guitar pick on Red House. When solo performing a Bartok rendition, he played solo on guitar and keyboard, both hands simutaneously functioning as lead and/or rhythm. Incredible coordination. Stanley’s trio ended the show with Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven, a sophisticated yet warmhearted interpretation. Enchanting.

Latin/Ethnic Jazz Strikes

A Cuban jazz legend and a solid stage performer, the old statesman ARTURO SANDOVAL is certainly the kind of surefooted jazz you would expect from an older performer, and younger jazz enthusiasts might watch-and-learn through his extravagant live performance. Multi-talented, he sings, plays trumpet, keyboard and piano. Still attractive and aggresive when soloing upstage, especially in trumpet.That night, he and the band rounded up many styles of jazz in a full hour of music. He also did standup, impersonating a session of instruments while tellingcomical stories of bebop. The show closed with a long jazz/prog suite: beginning with a filmscoring-like piano music that grew into a full jazz composition before jumping back to a slow dirge-tinged jazz-blues, then soaring up to a Cuban jazz fiesta. The organizer stopped the show due to running over time, but he still came back for an encore. The encore, a fierce trumpet playing by Arturo with a four octaves trumpet shriek ended the show with a huge round of applause from the appreciative audience.

SERGIO MENDES performed afterward in the same hall. He is more of a composer than a solid stage performer who lets the other musicians become the attraction. Opening with a festive song, Magalenha, followed by couple of Brazillian chill outs: Girls From Ipanema and Milagre, the Brazillian summer and tropical breeze spread around the hall through the song Samba de Minha with its soft bossanova vocal harmony and resounding flute. The audience’s favourite was a vocal duet on Sergio’s pop hit arrangement Never Gonna Let You Go.

Meanwhile, Africa-infused mother ZAP MAMA hypnotized the audience through her lyrics, showing an amazing afro-soul-jazz rhythm. Imagine acappella but with the backup of a live band when needed. Soulful and exquisite. Also featured were Kamal Musallam featuring Dwiki Dharmawan playing Arabic/Asia nuanced experimental jazz-world music, acoustic jazz-bossanova duet Paulinho Garcia featuring Rega Dauna, and the midnight gypsy/psych jazz Cyrille Aimee Band, to name a few.

Prog Jazz Strikes

JUSTIN KAUFLIN, backed by his two buddies, amused the audience with his talented piano-fingering. With the position of both piano and drums to the right of the stage, the complex composition of bebop-progjazz renditions such as Strawberry Field and Blues Clues, struck the air of the hall. The music was filled with jazz improvisations from each instrument, but still the piano lead the way. His piano roll was reminiscentof the aggressiveness of 50-60s bebop glory.

Yet, from all the performers at the Java Jazz Festival 2017, one band most of the audience refused to miss: Chick Corea’s Electric Band.

CHICK COREA’s ELECTRIC BAND featuring Chick Corea on keyboard, Frank Gambale on guitar, Nathan East on bass, Eric Marienthal on saxophone and Dave Weckl on drums are a jazz supergroup consisting of jazz masters performinga top-notch, instrumental jazz-rock repertoir. The show opened with the song Charge Particle, a heavy and full blown guitar attack, centered on Frank’s guitar solo. This was followed with a sombre, yet still tight composition Snap Dance where Eric joined the stage on a long, jammy instrumental journey. The heat was up through a flowing and fast tempo jazz-bebop, certainly not the cup of tea for standard jazz listeners with the next being a complex jazz-prog beauty centered on impromptu keyboard-drums, a spectacular duel. Kudos to Dave. They loosened thepath with a danceable track Beneath The Mask as confirmed by Mr. Corea when he said, “You may dance with it”. On the next song, he handled a keytar (guitar-like keyboard) and moved upfront of the stage. Surprisingly, each time the guitar entered the song, it automatically changed the musical flavor toward rock. The show was entirely amazing. But the best acts of the show were undoubtedly Dave Weckl and Frank Gambale.

Even though the rain hit, the jazz music kept on playing. And when the jazz struck back, it didn’t strike twice, it kept on going.

Photos by: KIKY Y. BASUKI