simakDialog – The 6th Story (2013)

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The Indonesian fusion scene is one of the great under noticed modern music developments currently going on in the world. These performers have done a remarkable job assimilating Western jazz-rock into their native music, and the results are often fascinating and exotic, but also surprisingly easy for Western ears to make a connection.

Riza Arshad’s twenty-year old ensemble simakDialog is at the very top of the heap of these Jakarta based bands in terms of creativity and musicianship. Arshad leads mainly with the trusty ol’ Fender Rhodes, but his imposing achievement has been to meld the culturally rich Indonesian gamelan music with the groove-laden but harmonically complex fusion of Return To Forever, the Zawinul Syndicate and Steve Smith’s Vital Information with (apparently) an intimate understanding of both worlds.

Since gamelan is such a large component in simakDialog’s music, Arshad utilizes the Sundanese kendang percussion skills of not one but two specialists: Endang Ramdan and Erlan Suwardana, while Cucu Kurnia handles other percussion. Electric bassist Adhitya Pratama counters local flavors with a funky bass guitar, and one of the country’s top electric guitarists Tohpati gives Arshad a powerful lead voice to pair with his own. The lean sonic makeup, made possible by the lack of drums, allows everyone to be heard clearly, and they don’t need to get overly intense to accomplish that.

To my ears, the Sundanese kendangs are the real stars of the show. They don’t merely mold the rhythms, they’re very much involved in the harmonies, too, often playing along to the entangled sequence of notes that Arshad devises.

The 6th Story is the latest release by this sextet, practicing their winning formula. “Stepping In” is a jam tune only by the standards of the band since it involves a lot of great unison and separate soloing by Arshad and Tohpati. And yet, there’s plenty of complexity going on that’s propelled by the trio of percussionists, while the front guys manage to stay in sync with all that while they’re improvising.

“Lain Parantina” is a quiet epic, stretching over nine minutes (even though the preceding “Stepping In” goes on a little longer). The tempo darts down a multitude of side alleys, with some pretty moments interspersed with intense ones. Sometimes it feels as though Ramdan, Suwardana and Kurnia are following the melody and other times the melody follows them.

Arshad and Tohpati improvise alongside each other on “Harmologic” throughout nearly the entire song, and even on softer tunes such as “What Would I Say” and “As Far As It Can Be (Jaco),” the sophistication of harmonics don’t slow down

Arshad unplugs for “Ari,” and the song is jazzier as a result of his acoustic piano (and no guitar), even with a synth solo that follows the piano one. With the kendangs in force, the basic structure of the simakDialog sound remains intact, though.

The 6th Story is world-class world fusion not by simply by putting together gamelan with Gong, but because of the potent unifying of rhythm with harmony, composition with improvisation, and East with West.

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The 6th Story is now on sale, via MoonJune Records. Visit simakDialog’s website for more info.

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on,, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at
S. Victor Aaron
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