January 1, 2016
Tony Scott & the Indonesian All Stars
MPS EAN/UPC 4250644879968
Although described as one of the first Jazz-World Music sessions, this 1967 date by American clarinetist Tony Scott and five Indonesian musicians Djanger Bali owes more to the reedist’s days on 52nd Street during the transition from Swing to Bop than Third World mysticism. Like a seasoned law maker whose understanding of practical solutions moves him across the political spectrum, Scott (1921-2007) was successively a Swing clarinetist, a committed Bop reedman, an originator of so-called New Age music following 1960s sojourns in Asia, and finally a Rome-based FreeBopper.
The inspiration the clarinetist got from non-Western sounds was stimulating not slavish. It gave him a unique context in which to express his idiosyncratic clarinet tones. Rather than superficially adapting Far Eastern musical stereotypes in an attempt to go native, Scott instead hooked up with a quintet of players whose idiom was undoubtedly Jazz yet were sophisticated enough to reflection sounds from their own country as they improvised. Think of the session as Jakarta Bop. The Bop part is cardinal. While it may have been the mid-1960s, it appears that Hard Bop and the avant-garde still hadn’t crossed the Indian Ocean at that point. The riffing orientation as well as the instrumentation – tenor saxophone/flute, guitar, piano, bass and drums is what one would expect to find in a high class nightclub, not a funky bar nor an isolated loft. Each of the six tunes is well balanced and swinging, but nothing would challenge the experimenters of the day.
With bassist Yopi Chen and drummer Benny Mustafa keeping the themes moving, the front-line stretches out, but in the main only at 78 rpm length. In the Oscar Peterson mould, pianist Bubi Chen is a furious, facile accompaniment, creatively comping most notably on “Summertime” and leeching out some late night-style Blues fantasia on “Burungkaka Tua”. Almost inevitably the down-stroking bounce Jack Lesmana brings to his guitar chording fits hand-in-glove with Chen, rather as Herb Ellis or Joe Pass linked up with Peterson. Guitar chords also harmonize easily with clarinet and single-name Marjono’s tenor saxophone. But even here the saxist could have emerged from a time machine. On a track like “’Mahlke from ‘Katz Und Maus’,” his tone is a throwback to big band tenors like Tex Beneke or Eddie Miller. When he lets himself break up a smooth line to venture towards the contemporary as on “Summertime”, the comparison is to Zoot Sims, not anyone whose style matured after 1956. Still his most affecting work occurs on the Gershwin tune as his glossy obbligato contrasts distinctively with Scott’s reed bites.
Avoiding false exotica, the sextet maintains its Swing orientation when it turns to classic Javanese fare. “Gambang Suling” is built on the mallet clangs from Chen’s zither, which he wields with the artfulness of someone used to wind his way among thousands of islands and many ethnic groups. The wispy tone of Marjono’s suling or bamboo flute adds to the bucolic mood, so much so that when the head returns via the piano’s ivories and a centred drum beat, it nearly shocks the system. “Ilir Ilir”, a Javanese children’s ghost song, provides an instance of melodious vocalizing from Marjono. Although the theme sounds more Bollywood than Banten, it is as appropriate as a Broadway belter on which to improvise. This is proven near the end when Scott’s clarinet bleeps enter at race-track speed, Chen contributes some finger-snapping piano vibrations, with the changes acceptable to any Jazz fan.
A noble experiment that shouldn’t be oversold as World Music fusion, overall this session is a fine, if not exceptional Jazz date. Besides adding more non-ethereal music to Scott’s discography, it demonstrates the sophisticated – if slightly anachronistic – Jazz sense from a country know more for Sukarno’s New Order than Swing or The New Thing. Wonder if any of these local players are still gigging nearly a half century later?
Track Listing: 1. Djanger Bali 2. Mahlke From “Katz Und Maus” 3. Gambang Suling 4. lir, Ilir 5. Burungkaka Tua 6. Summertime
Personnel: Tony Scott (clarinet); Marjono (tenor saxophone, suling, vocals); Bubi Chen (piano, ketjapi); Jack Lesmana (guitar); Yopi Chen (bass) and Benny Mustafa (drums)