The once easily maligned and watered down genre known as jazz fusion has been making quite a comeback in the new century, due in large part to an infusion of fresh new talent from around the globe who bring the music of their culture to the mix. You could hardly call Simak Dialog new, as they have been recording for almost twenty years, but since their addition to the MoonJune roster of artists, they have been reaching a far wider international audience that may see them as a relatively new band on the scene. There are so many great fusion bands coming from Indonesia these days, some carry a stronger influence of their culture than others, but few show such a strong element of classic Indonesian Gamelan as Simak Dialog. “Live at Orion” is the latest live offering from Dialog, and it shows them playing many songs from their recently released “6th Story” , as well some cuts from older albums, and a couple tracks that have not shown up on any of their previous releases.
Long time fans of Dialog will know what to expect here, a mix of Gamelan rhythms and structures fused with a late 60s style of raw jazz rock that often veers into psychedelic and avant-garde sound layers. The backbone of the Dialog sound is the tuned drums and metallophones of the Indonesian Gamelan, to this they add Riza Arshad on Fender Rhodes, Tohpati on electric guitar and Rudy Zulkarnen on bass. All the instruments blend perfectly; the Fender Rhodes is basically an amplified metallophone in itself, and Tohpati is apt to run his guitar through a ring modulator which gives it a clangorous percussive metallic effect, much like the Gamelan instruments and the Rhodes. This combination of instruments can sound like a modern mini gamelan orchestra, a tuned percussion ensemble playing John Cage’s prepared piano pieces, or Stockhausen’s experiments with ring modulated sounds. In between these more avant-garde ambitions, Dialog is apt to hit a steady groove and let Tohpati play a fret burning guitar solo.
The music on here is excellent, far more creative and original than many of their fusion peers, but unfortunately all of this great music is somewhat marred by a rather lackluster sound. Simak Dialog’s music is raw and earthy, so I wouldn’t expect, or even want a real polished sound, but there is something lacking here, a certain high end and sharp definition. It almost sounds like the concert was picked up on one or two room mics, rather than individual instrument microphones or line-ins. Its not a huge problem, as every instrument is nice and clear, but music this good deserves a better sound.