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Tribal Dance, the third release by guitarist Tohpati to appear on MoonJune Records, makes for a natural companion to the label's recent Surya Namaskar release, which features guitarist Dewa Budjana alongside Jimmy Johnson and Vinnie Colaiuta. Both recordings are jazz-fusion—jazz-rock, if you prefer—sets that make no apologies for perpetuating a tradition that now extends back four decades. One of the more appealing aspects of the recording is that it was recorded live, and consequently the music exudes a greater-than-average energy and vitality; that seven of the eight tracks were recorded live (in September 2013 at EchoBar Studios in Los Angeles) also says much about the level of musicianship involved, given the trio's polished execution of Tohpati's material.
Though less well known in North America, Tohpati is celebrated as a guitarist in his native Indonesia and also is well-known for his tenure in the jazz band simakDialog, which he joined in 1994 in his early twenties. On Tribal Dance, Tohpati pays homage to his roots by including Indonesian vocals (by Pak Kompyang and Iwan Wiradz) on the opening piece and by threading various sound samples from the Tohpati Music Library into some of the other tracks' intros.
An exceptionally versatile player, Tohpati is as comfortable voicing warm, legato lines as spitting out raw power chords. In name alone, the players accompanying him imply much about what one can expect expect from the concise forty-two-minute set, with bassist Jimmy Haslip well-known for his playing in The Yellowjackets and drummer Chad Wackerman for his associations with Frank Zappa, Alan Holdsworth, and Andy Summers, among others. Compared to Colaiuta, Wackerman's a tad less busy and a bit more rock-oriented in his playing style, and Haslip and Wackerman excel at bringing Tohpati's material to life. Though some tracks find all three playing with high-wire abandon, the bassist often anchors the material, a move that frees the drummer to go toe-to-toe with the guitarist and shadow his every move.
The opener “Rahwana,” which sees the musicians moving rapidly between heavy rock and elegant episodes, captures how thoroughly locked-in the three are in their interplay. Even though, as stated, jazz-rock is the general style, the music fluidly ventures into a number of areas, among them jazz, prog, and even R'n'B and funk: the anthemic “Spirit of Java” is dominated by a grandiose prog-like theme, while “Red Mask” derives much of its life-force from a jubilant pop feel. The one non-trio track, “Midnight Rain,” was laid down by the guitarist at his Jakarta home studio earlier this year and, as a multi-layered, guitar-centered meditation, works well as a closing piece for the album. It's a consistently strong set from start to finish, but Tribal Dance's most appealing cuts might be the title track and “Run” on account of their infectious grooves and engaging melodic qualities.