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Power chords and jazz phrasings combine with exotic Indonesian touches to develop a musical aesthetic that bridges Eastern and Western ideas.

Music Review: Tohpati – ‘Tribal Dance’

For Tribal Dance, his third outing for Moonjune Records, Indonesian guitarist Tohpati is joined by bass guitarist Jimmy Haslip and drummer Chad Wackerman for a scalding set of progressive jazz rock fusion. As featured guitarist for the progressive jazz Indonesian ensemble simakDIALOG, Tohpati is certainly no stranger to fusion, but his new emphasis on rock elements seems but another indication of the guitarist’s expansive notion of his musical direction. And with Haslip, one of the original members of the Yellowjackets, and Wackerman, who played with Frank Zappa, he had ample help on the rock endto say nothing of the jazz and the fusion. These are two musicians who know their way around the soundscape Tohpati is after. The trio blasts its way through a remarkable set.

Power chords, primal distortions, and jazz phrasings combine with exotic Indonesian hints and touches to develop a musical aesthetic that bridges Eastern and Western ideas. Most of the tracks begin with ambient sound samples or short Indonesian vocals before taking off rhythmically and melodically and moving conceptually from East to West.T2

The eight-tune set begins with “Rahwana,” a piece that defines the cultural dialogue at work on the album with its chanting opening moving into a challenging rhythmic duel between the two guitars right from the start. Worlds collide and coalesce, collide and coalesce. “Spirit of Java” follows with a stately change of tone, dark and ominous, until the guitarists and Wackerman take off. The album’s title song features some killer work from Wackerman, and Tohpati’s guitar fairly sings. The trio lyrically rocks its way through both “Red Mask” and “Run,” while they slow down for an almost folk-like take on the album’s shortest piece, “Savana.” The opening of “Supernatural” is an eerie introduction to the blasting guitars that follow. The album closes by lowering the temperature with “Midnight Rain.”

While Tribal Dance does manage to look back to Tophati’s roots, this is not world music. This is musical grafting. This is Western fusion played with abandon. It showcases guitar work that would make many big name guitarists envious.

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