Dwiki Dharmawan: So Far So Close
Slivovitz: All You Can Eat
Not to take anything away from Indonesian keyboard player Dwiki Dharmawan, but the biggest initial cause for celebration on So Far So Close is the appearance of Jerry Goodman on its opening track. Sightings of the one-time Mahavishnu Orchestra violinist have been few and far between in recent days, whether live or on record, so being granted a recent sampling of his artistry is enough to get any long-time Mahavishnu fan excited. And, best of all, he doesn't disappoint, with his electric violin playing on the track as strong as ever and immediately identifiable. In fact, as good as Dharmawan's MoonJune Records debut is, one can only imagine how much better it would be had Goodman played on the album in full.
That being said, there's much to recommend about the forty-six-minute recording, whose progressive music (all of it composed by Dharmawan) stylistically evokes the glory years of fusion, and with the leader playing Minimoog, organ, and acoustic and electric pianos and his band-mates guitar, bass, and drums, So Far So Close sometimes calls to mind an act such as Return to Forever and its string of phenomenal ‘70s albums. Dharmawan isn't joined by faceless musicians either: Jimmy Haslip (Yellowjackets) and Chad Wackerman provide incredible rhythm support, and fellow MoonJune artists Dewa Budjana and Tohpati comfortably fill the guitar chair. I've heard (and seen) Wackerman play many times, but his playing on this set is exceptionally tight, and Haslip's excellent, too. The leader, by the way, isn't a new face on the scene: his career spans more than three decades, and his band, Krakatoa, is one of Indonesia's most famous outfits.
As mentioned, the opening “Arafura” receives an incredible boost from Goodman's soaring presence, but the others impress, too. Wackerman and Haslip power the uptempo tune with chops aplenty, and on this album standout the leader's Fender Rhodes and synthesizer playing gives the material an alternately funky and swinging feel. With Goodman sitting out thereafter, it falls to the guitarists and Dharmawan to carry the melodic load. In gracing the track with delicate, Holdsworth-ian lines, Budjana does exactly that on the rousing ballad “Bromo,” though the keyboardist also contributes ample colour and texture to the piece. Tohpati plays electric on two cuts, but it's his acoustic turn on “Whale Dance” that's the most memorable. The title track riffs on steamy jazz-funk in a way that recalls Blow By Blow; “The Dark of the Light,” on the other hand, is as much prog-rock as fusion. If there's a weak track to be found, the likely candidate would be “Jembrana's Fantasy,” simply for being overly busy.
Throughout the eight-track set, Dharmawan enhances the material with a rich array of organ, piano, and synthesizer textures whilst being careful to not overwhelm the tracks with an excess of detail. So Far So Close is also noteworthy for perpetuating MoonJune's ongoing love affair with Indonesian artists: in recent years, Leonardo Pavkovic's label has released a number of albums by Dewa Budjana and Tohpati, and Dharmawan's is a fine complement to theirs.
There's violin too on Slivovitz's All You Can Eat, but in this case it extends throughout the recording in keeping with Riccardi Villari's status as a full member of the Italian septet. Hailing from Naples and operating since 2001, Slivovitz possesses an expansive instrumental vision that's well-served by the combination of Villari, saxophonist Pietro Santangelo, trumpeter Ciro Riccardi, guitarist Marcello Giannini, and Derek Di Perri on harmonica, and in a band whose style runs more to instrumental rock than fusion (the press release characterizes it as “progressive gypsy jazz”), bass guitarist Vincenzo Lamagna and drummer Salvatore Rainone provide a solid bottom end. Beyond the group's unusual instrumental make-up, another thing that separates Slivovitz from other outfits is the way it threads ethnic sonorities from different parts of the globe into its compositions, something heard throughout the forty-seven-minute recording in settings like the flamenco-tinged “Yahtzee” and the robust closer “Oblio.”
At the album's outset, the suggestively titled “Persian Night” is elevated by the interplay between harmonica, violin, and electric guitar, not to mention a heavy groove toughened by Giannini's raw contributions. As impressive is the ease with which the group artfully segues between loud and soft episodes, an ability honed over time and refined across many years of live playing and recordings. It's hard not to be impressed by the skill with which transitions are handled in a representative piece such as “Mani in Faccia,” where the group alternates between hard stutter-funk and lyrical serenading sequences with no apparent difficulty.
In covering multiple sectional bases (woodwinds, horns, strings), Slivovitz functions as an orchestra in microcosmic form and equipped as such appears capable of tackling any number of styles. Hints of blues and country surface now and then courtesy of Di Perri's harmonica (see “Currywuster”), while that aforementioned “progressive gypsy jazz” dimension comes to the fore when Villari's featured; Santangelo's tenor solos during “Barotrauma” and “Oblio,” on the other hand, accentuate the band's breezy jazz side. Tricky, Zappa-esque time signatures and complex arrangements are commonplace in Slivovitz's world and consequently begin to feel like the most natural things in the world. Talk about versatility: funk, rock, country, jazz, blues—this is a band seemingly able to do it all.