Sambasunda Quintet: Java

The collective has been whittled down to a quintet, and the energy has been pressed into the mould of a dynamic croon.

Sambasunda Quintet


Label: Riverboat
US Release Date: 2012-01-31
UK Release Date: 2012-01-30

Indonesian music, in the part of the music-selling world that caters to English-speaking listeners, is a funny presence, there and not there, a flicker that comes and goes. In one sense of course it's constant and strong: all you have to do is type "indonesian music"or something like that into a search engine and in ten seconds you've discovered that the Rolling Stone Indonesia once voted Chrisye's Badai Pasti Berlalu the best Indonesian album of all time and, click, you've found the label's website, and, click, you're ordering the thing, click, you know Chrisye's full name, click, you know his date of birth, click, you know when he died, click, click, click.

But you go to it, it doesn't often come to you, this varied music, though the Balinese kecak or monkey dance appears here and there, a shattering rattle, sampled for various musical projects, films, and games -- and the overlapping gonging of the gamelan is not unknown. Smithsonian Folkways put out a 20-disc set in 2000: Music of Indonesia. Field recordings exist. Sambasunda comes from West Java, which is gamelan territory. The group's composer, Ismet Ruchimat, spent years playing overseas in different parts of Scandinavia and Iceland, working with jazz bands, and he brings a talent for multicultural integration into the music of Java, as he brought it into the group's last album, Rahwana's Cry, which was released in 2005.

The ruling sound is Javanese, with the cut-glass tingle of the kacapi zither and the Southeast Asian tang of Neng Dini Andriatti's croon, but riffs from the outside help to glue it all together. The drums behind the bamboo flute in "Teman Endah" putter with Africa, the flute itself has a jazz-like solo in "Arang Arang Kaleon Prawa", the strings that lead us into "Kembang Tenjung" are quick with Spanish guitar, and the other instruments sweep into the song with the melodrama of a pop ballad. Then Andriatti opens her mouth and the music reaffirms its nationality. The pop ballad becomes specifically pop sunda. West Javanese pop. I think the last time a pop sunda singer had any kind of Western exposure might have been Detty Kurnia, more than a decade ago, her Dari Sunda re-released in Britain by – who was it? I double-check. Riverboat, like this album. Dari Sunda was aimed originally at the Japanese market, with excursions into Japanese lyrics and a more international, or less-Java-rooted sound. Java is firmly Java. But the vocal delivery of the two women is similar, the low long passages, the smooth upward drift into a higher, thinner note.

In Java the gamelan is absent, and so is the seggak singing that electrified parts of Rahwana's Cry, but the sense of gongs and rings and echoes is still there, though quieter now, and subtler, a glister not a yell. The Irish fiddle that joins the band in "Paddy Pergi Ka Bandung" is a brave experiment, and I believe brave experiments are a force for good. I'd rather hear people experiment than stay safe, but I don't think the fiddle track works on this album. This lone fiddle is too distinct, it stands out while everything else around it is mingling, and this mingling is part of Java's character, this impression of instrument and voice running together in an ongoing continuity. It's an excellent meeting-place of an album, not as purely traditional as most gamelan and field recordings, and not as pop-oriented as dangdut or Chrisye – it sits between them, a good little sweet spot of its own.






The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.


The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.


Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.


'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.


'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"


Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.


The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".


GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".


Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".


Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.


Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.


The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".


Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.


Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.