Imagine an Indonesian guitar virtuoso jamming with the Yellowjackets’ bassist and Frank Zappa’s percussionist. Shredding exotica everywhere, right? Exactly.
Tohpati Ario Hutomo (Bontot) went through the usual young musician stages of classical and rock before fine-tuning his own game in various bands, fueled by the music of his heroes — Led Zeppelin, Yes, the Police, Deep Purple. As he rose in the ranks, he found himself in some heavy jazz-rock company playing international festivals. Try, the Yellowjackets at the 2010 Jakarta Jazz Fest. They brought him onstage, then recorded a song for his next album, and that was it. Two of Tohpati’s previous albums included other famous names: Eric Marienthal, Glenn Fredly, Indra Lesmana, and Shakila.
Tribal Dance is Tohpati’s third MoonJune release and the second in the trio format. In it, he, bassist Jimmy Haslip, and drummer Chad Wackerman go places as they grow tighter and tighter from track to track, eight total. Released on April 17, the album features original songs by Tohpati, also the producer.
The songs burst with prehistoric life, and are played with the bombastic swagger — no lack of confidence here — of veterans used to decimating the premises. But Tribal Dance isn’t mindless, testosterone throwing. There’s quality melody threaded throughout and pinprick accuracy in the accented notes — a lot of them, echoed throughout eternity. For while Tohpati, Haslip, and Wackerman play like confident gods of rock fusion, they also take care of technique.
Nobody’s dicking around for the special effect. “Rahwana” — the showstopper — charges out with Indonesian, almost Buddhist monk chanting, dismembered voices bumper-car ramping into one another before the twists and turns of a harpsichord melody careen outward. Tohpati renders traditional, staid guitar playing obsolete with his textured, broken corner vibes. Haslip and Wackerman prove more than understudies, dutifully following along. They jump and jive, providing ample smoke to the screen of groove-defying numbers in one, seven-plus-minutes of fly-away screaming distortion and animalistic choir.
The jazz principles of harmonic movement, intricate chord progressions, and collaborative solo exchanges inform the title track, which rocks back and forth between heavy metal and synthesized funk-kissed ambient music. Haslip and Wackerman are just as front and center as Tohpati, driving the beats without leadening a step. Their famous signatures inspire the featured artist to crank it up.
“Supernatural” really highlights Wackerman’s use of space and jive, as he seems to literally paint circles in the air in a dizzying, awesome superlative of a solo.
Several of the tracks offer a taste of Tohpati’s Jakarta origins, giving wide berth to what Americans might hear as exotic, strange sounds before some luau. In this guitarist’s hands, they elevate the songs. “Savana” is Asia and Africa from the groundswell of a bird’s flight, hushed and wind-swept — that’s his guitar, folks. It’s also a touching mood shift of delicate approach, a love-drenched prayer. “Red Mask” picks up on a tropical rainforest by a river, definitely Southwest Asia, as the music of a village waking up to fish and forage distends into a stomping metal rock parade on Haslip’s unearthly bass score… too much. “Midnight Rain” takes its uniqueness from the distemper of metallic distortion just this side of a classical-rock catharsis, as Tohpati makes his guitar not only probe but sing.
Tohpati uses his indigenous roots to sample some fairly modern rock-jazz, even classical, interpretations. He does it all with the ample amplification of some rock-heavy friends.