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  Live Performance Review: simakDialog at Shapeshifter Lab, Brooklyn, NYC, Novermber 10, 2014
Posted December 24, 2014, by John M
To me, the music of simakDialog represents a voyage of discovery: exploring new sonic landscapes through their ambitious, unpretentious-but-highly-skilled approach to playing as individual musicians, and their corporate trust in one another's ability to grasp the subtle dynamics of a given moment and guide the music to its ultimate destination. (... wherever that may happen to be!)

Despite my affection for their most exotic and unique musical expressions, it wasn't until last month that I finally got an opportunity to see them perform live. (Residing 1000 miles south of NYC, in a remote portion of North Central Florida, can have such an impact on a guy, despite the strongest of passions.) To say that my patience was rewarded would be quite an understatement, as the band put on a performance that was easily among the finest I have ever witnessed.

Group founder, leader and composer, keyboardist Riza Arshad, was right at home on the house Fender Rhodes. Throughout the gripping 90-minute set, he continually coaxed wave after wave of classic, textured voicings which harkened back to the earliest days of progressive jazz fusion —- when the Rhodes was a "default" instrument that no self-respecting keyboardist could possibly be without. But his playing transcended that era: grasping its essential core essence, but continually pushing the music beyond all previously-established bounds.
  Riza Arshad, leader, founder and keyboardist of MoonJune Records recording artists, simakDialog, performing at Shapeshifter Labs, Brooklyn, NYC.

...and pushing past boundaries was what this evening would prove to be all about!

Sudanese percussionists, Cucu Kurnia and Endang Jean-Claude Ramdan, of MoonJune Records recording artists, simakDialog, performing at Shapeshifter Labs, Brooklyn, NYC.  
To his immediate right per the pair of percussionists who accompanied the band on this trip (in their native Indonesia, the band typically performs with three percussionists) -- veteran master of Sudanese percussion, Endang "Jean-Claude!" Ramdan, and Cucu Kurnia. What made Arshad's keyboard excursions all-the-more dramatic was the telepathic link these two phenomenal percussionists share with him (and each other). Not only did they follow his polyrhythmic improvisations stride for stride, but the two percussionists shared an acute awareness of the dynamics of the moment, as well. As walls of sound built up and crescendoed from Arshad's emotional-drenched Rhodes work, both Ramdan and Kurnia echoed his dynamics in perfect synchronicity and feel.

It was an unforgettable experience for me: the privileged, overwhelmingly-astonished listener and onlooker. I have seen bands perform with similar levels of "music improv ESP" in the past. (Brand X —at "The Old Waldorf," in San Francisco —back in November of 1978, comes to mind.) But this was beyond anything I have ever witnessed, as the individual dynamics of each player were a perfect compliment to the magical moments that were transpiring.

... and, through it all, between the percussion section and the band's relative newcomer, bassist Rudy Zulkarnaen (who replaced the legendary Indonesian bassist, Adhithya Pratama, less than a year prior), there was still a clearly-discernible underlying pulse that was maintained —no matter how far out-of-bounds the music waltzed its way to. Rudy was the only member of the band who had sheet music (no demerits there, given the complexity and constant changes of the music's underlying structures), but he never sounded like a passenger in the backseat of this adventure ride: his playing was vibrant, dead-on accurate and equally attuned to the shifting intensities of each respective piece.
  Bassist Rudy Zulkarnaen, of simakDialog, performing at Shapeshifter Labs, Brooklyn, NYC.

The icing on the cake for the evening, though, was the stellar guitar work of Tohpati Ario. The group's only other remaining founding member, Tohpati played like a man possessed! His cascading runs decorated the music in perfect fashion. He displayed a penchant for digging into his very deep bag of tones, continually pulling out the most surprising sounds at the most opportune moments.

Image: MoonJune Records recording artist, Tohpati Ario, performing with simakDialog, at Shapeshifter Labs, Brooklyn, NYC.  
Tohpati's guitar playing is rooted in spontaneity: full of nuance and emotion, his expressions on his instrument reflect his pioneering approach to seeking out everything a given song has to offer. His solos are like a mosaic of miniature masterpieces stitched together, one after the other, as he pushes through thresholds of expression on guitar and explores all of the potential afforded by each musical moment. The result, especially on this very special night, was profoundly moving. Tohpati's voice on his instrument is unlike any other I have ever experienced, and he pushes the music as hard as he obviously pushes himself.

On a night of supreme music excellence, Tohpati was the authoritative voice that sang, unfettered, above it all. His playing carried the music to another level of creative discovery that few guitarists would have the daring to attempt in a live performance setting. This was the big payoff in a high-stakes game; it was the genius of expression, fully realized. It was as good as live improvisational guitar playing in a group setting gets!

As if what was presented was not incredible enough, the show was decorated by the contributions of two very special guests. Guitarist extraordinaire (and fellow MoonJune Records artist) Beledo joined the band near the end of the show, providing some shimmering, glassy chord voicings and some stellar lead guitar exchanges with Tohpati on the band's remake of their song, "Tak Jauh." (Beledo's trio opened the show in powerful fashion, BTW!)
  Image: MoonJune Records recording artist Beledo, performing with simakDialog, at Shapeshifter Labs, Brooklyn, NYC.

The other guest was master Brazilian percussionist, Thomaz de Castro, who put on a virtuosic display on a variety of unique percussion devices indigenous to his native culture. (Thomaz, as I was to find out shortly after the show, is also the "Operations Director" of the world-famous venue, NYC's The Iridium.)

In retrospect, I have to conclude that after four decades of following and having the privilege of witnessing some of the greatest jazz, rock and progressive music groups their respective genres have had to offer, this show easily ranks among the finest, most powerful performances I've ever attended. Rarely is improvisation so fresh, ingenious and still highly-polished. The entire evening was pure magic.

Image: MoonJune Records recording artists simakDialog, performing live at Shapeshifter Lab, Brooklyn, NYC, on November 10, 2014.

... and simakDialog cemented their position as one of progressive music's most vital, brilliant and singularly-unique artists.

One day, the world will wake up to the enormous depth of talent in Indonesia that MoonJune's Leonardo Pavkovic has already discovered and is bringing to light ... more power and "Godspeed!" to him, in this pursuit!


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