Friday, June 05, 2009

Jazz on the rocks with a twist

Matheos Viktor Messakh , The Jakarta Post , Jakarta | Sat, 05/23/2009 1:25 PM | Entertainment

Jazz music is known above all for its complete flexibility, which is what makes it appealing to music lovers of all ages.

Jazz is popular all over the world these days and has the distinction of influencing all other kinds of music. Today, even electronic DJs and hip-hop artists include popular jazz music in their repertoires.

However, sometimes jazz is also overlooked as the kind of music you can dance to, with the emphasis instead falling on it being a serious listening experience.

In the wake of the decline of fusion jazz in the mid-1970s, jazz artists who continued to seek wider audiences began incorporating a variety of popular sounds into their music, forming a group of accessible styles that became known as crossover jazz.

The same expectation comes from Dji Sam Soe's Urban Jazz Crossover, an event that has been held in Medan, Bandung, Semarang and Jakarta, with another one to be staged at The Empire Place in Surabaya on May 29.

The annual jazz event, which started last year, blended various kinds of popular sounds in its new arrangements and improvisations, featuring musicians and singers for all kinds of music.

"We are seeking a wider audience, so we arrange the songs to be more familiar to non-jazz audiences," said music director Eki Puradiredja.

Unlike many jazz events which mostly invite foreign musicians, this event is really a local movement by local artists because all the musicians and singers are local.

"This is a new playground for many local singers and musicians to explore more about jazz music. We are not only providing opportunities for well-known artists but are also seeking new talented musicians and singers who need exposure," said Eki.

Among the talented newcomers are jazz singer Dira Sugandi who is about to release her debut album in collaboration with Incognito leader Jean-Paul "Bluey" Maunick, 20-year-old Indonesian-Filipino singer Skarmela Kartodirdjo, who released her solo album Star in the Philippines, keyboardist Ali Akbar Sugiri and drummer Rayendra Sunito.

"Some of them have exposure only in the limited jazz community," said Eki.

Because improvisation is one of the most important features of jazz music and the rate of improvisation is an indication of the music's quality, the jazz event has tried to include local content such as traditional Indonesian music in its musical arrangements, as well as exploring all kinds of sounds, ranging from semi-classical music, rap, Latin jazz, R&B, hip hop, dance and rock.

Among the 22 songs performed in the event, titled "Music you know with a twist", are Radiohead's song "Creep", which is performed by the progressive rock band Discus' singer Yuyun in sinden (traditional Javanese singing style) in collaboration with R&B singer Glenn Fredly in Cuban jazz style.

We can also hear U2's "Sunday Bloody Sunday" in two-step swing by rocker Andi/rif with the semi-classic vocals of Daniel Christianto and the strikes of rapper Pradana Rizky.

"The arrangement is absolutely different from the original song so I needed to tune in to the song but luckily I like being challenged. In the end, I decided to take part in this event because I enjoy the way I can sing in a different style," said Andi, who performs five songs in the event including his own hit "Raja", the Rihanna hit "Umbrella" and Coldplay's "Clock", which he sings in a big-band style.

Dji Sam Soe's brand manager Stephanus Kurniadi said so far the event had received an enthusiastic response from jazz lovers.

"We are satisfied that every show was marked with full audiences and, most importantly, they stayed till the end of the show," Stephanus told reporters ahead of the fourth show, held Friday at the Ritz-Carlton Pacific Place in Jakarta.

There are more artists this year than in last year's event, which featured only Maliq n D'essentials, Glenn Fredly, Andi/rif, Audy, DJ Cream, rapper Pradana Rizky and the Urban Jazz Crossover All Stars band.

"The only criticism we have received is about the duration of show, which some audience members have said is too short," Stephanus said.

Adopting and absorbing characteristics from the music of other cultures has become one of the defining traits of jazz music.

And perhaps because it has a form that is ever evolving, jazz has many facets, making it very difficult to define. In the mid-1970s saxophonist Grover Washington, Jr. started to incorporate elements of funk and R&B into a sound based in hard bop, singer Al Jarreau blurred the lines between jazz, pop and soul and Spyro Gyra injected their pop-flavored instrumentals with Latin rhythms and electronic keyboards.

Given this, it is only to be expected that events such as this could come along to satisfy the thirst for high-quality but marketable jazz music. Because, unlike the related genre smooth jazz, crossover jazz always retains an emphasis on improvisation but tries to make the improvisation commercially viable by couching it in a various marketable formats.

As Eki Puradiredja put it, "Our main concern is not the number of people in the audience but the quality of the show. An average number of audience members is enough as long as they are really willing to see and appreciate the show."

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