In recent years, progressive rock imprint MoonJune Records has introduced Western audiences to the vastly underrated prog-rock and fusion jazz scene of Indonesia. Ligro, simakDialog, Dewa Budjana and I Know You Well Miss Clara are just a few of the amazing acts Leonardo Pavkovic and his label have brought to worldwide attention. But are these acts really world-class? I think so and obviously so does Pavkovic, but the real test is to put them together with some of the “best of the West” and see how they fare when running with the big dogs.
Budjana has recently displayed his guitar acumen with renowned bassist Jimmy Johnson and drummer Vinnie Colaiuta on the MoonJune release Surya Namaskar, but here we’re going to examine another Indonesian superstar guitarist, Tohpati. His cross-Pacific encounter is with a dream rhythm section of ex-Yellowjackets bassist Jimmy Haslip and ex-Frank Zappa and Allan Holdsworth drummer Chad Wackerman.
Tribal Dance, out on May 20, 2014 from MoonJune, is everything you’d want out of a jazz-rock power trio: impossibly labyrinthine but appealing harmonies married to the high level of acumen required to play that kind of stuff. Tohpati, who made a key appearance on last year’s The 6th Story masterwork by simakDialog, holds little back on his own new record, dispatching a frontal assault on the ears while also massaging the soul.
“Rahwana” announces that winning strategy at the start: a succulent slice of power fusion, with twisty runs with Haslip, zany guitar effects, and no holds barred improvising. You won’t find many clichés found in his extended solo, either, but there are plenty of peak moments. The hot/cold dichotomy Tohpati does rather well fuels “Spirit of Java,” where ethereal textures sooth for the first 2-1/2 minutes then suddenly pivots into a tight groove. A mixture of the two motifs ends the thing after Tohpati cuts loose a caustic, wicked solo. “Run” also gets funky, alternating with rich Holdsworth-type chords and topped off with an in-the-pocket Haslip highlight.
Some power fusion albums start off strong and end with fillers, but Tohpati is having none of that. “Supernatural” rocks hard, even through the thick, exotic chord progressions, leading to another balls-to-the-wall solo. Wackerman later conducts his own stunning clinic. “Midnight Train” ends the album with Tohpati only, dubbed over with three guitars but just one lead. That lead is like one of Jeff Beck’s patented heart-wrenching exhibitions à la “Because We Ended As Lovers,” proving that Tohpati invests as much into emotion as he does into commotion.
He also proves he can hang with the best America has to offer. With apologies to ZZ Top: Tohpati is bad, he’s
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