- Overpoweringly Awesome Use of Ethnic Percussion
Some albums really take you by surprise and give you something you never would have expected but whole-heartedly welcome; such was the case when I popped in Save the Planet by Indonesian prog fusion act Tohpati Ethnomission and was blown away by a wave of tastefully composed and performed jazz-rock meets Indonesian folk styles. Although the band is lead simakDIALOG’s axe-master, Tohpati, Save the Planet is truly an album in which every band member plays an essential role in combining to form a unique sound. Swirling Sundanese flutes and mounds of Indonesian percussion combine with a fabulous fusion rhythm section and guitar work that leaps from a stylish blend of McLaughlin and Fripp to create a masterpiece of prog fusion mightily bolstered by its cultural groundings. If there is prog that takes full advantage of its ethno-cultural heritage, this is it my friends.
Musically speaking, Save the Planet finds a perfect place in which to intermingle creative guitar-work with brilliantly executed Indonesian flute and percussion to a backdrop of a strong fusion rhythm section. The album kicks it off powerfully with the title track, “Selamatkan” (Save the Planet), delivering funky bass and ethnic flute to set the tone before enlightening us with a wonderful syncopated melody on guitar and flute. Ethnic percussion abounds, which will become a staple for this album as fusion influences become more grounded, directing us to a wonderful middle section that’s full of fine percussion, woodwind ambiance, and jazz improvisation that becomes scrumptiously more chaotic as it builds. As the record continued, I encountered a number of surprises. Since I generally have a hard time getting into short pieces, I was quite pleased to find a rather brief composition to be one of my favorites on the album; “Drama,” clocking in at one minute and forty-six seconds instantly grabbed my attention with its immediate and aggressive unison lines that lay somewhere between avant-garde and jazz. With it’s fabulous use of intervals in its runs and an in your face approach to use of rhythm and rests, the song really packs some punch.
The next track up, “Ethno Funk,” instantly brought a grin on my face with it’s use of the ‘neener-neener-neener’ theme, recalling both the way us kids used to mock each other on the elementary school playground, as well as that beloved, albeit brief, bass interjection from Return to Forever’s “Medieval Overture”. Far from a rip-off, however, “Ethno Funk” demonstrates splendid percussion that you could listen to all day from the wonderful percussion/drumming team of Endrang Ramdan and Demas Narawangsa. Couple that with one of the finest and most varied guitar solo sections on the album where Tohpati makes brilliant use of dissonance and variety, going from avant to funky, and you have a killer track on your hands. Offering similarly fine goods, but with a bit more of a traditional jazz sound, “Hutan Hujan” (Rain Forest) keeps up the tradition of great drumming and guitar-work on a track that seamlessly melds folk and jazz influences while highlighting them with Tohpati’s creative soloing; this starts of with solid use of weird guitar effects and then jumps through a variety of tonalities and techniques that cover the spectrum, from dissonant chords to sweep picking, all the while we are being treated to one of the finest drum/percussion experiences the album has to offer (I know I keep saying that, but there are so many great examples!).
After a lot of energetic tracks, “Biarkan Burung Bernyanyi” (Let the Birds Sing) masterfully brings down the energy with a slower (but far from boring) pace, augmented by tons of folky woodwinds and ethnic percussion. The middle section of the piece is especially interesting in the way that it starts off very folky and slowly adds in jazzy harmonic progressions behind its apologetically ethnic flute parts. As we head towards the end of the album, “Perang Tanding” (Battle Between Good & Beast) is definitely worth a mention for its mysterious chord progressions a couple minutes into the song which is followed by a jarring and violent use of percussion that gives the sensation of someone or something being given a thrashing (but in a cool, avant-garde musical kind of way).
Tohpati Ethnomission’s Save the Planet, in all honesty, is an album that should grab a variety of prog fans by the throat and say, “GO OUT AND BUY ME!” Whether you’re a jazz fan or not, the balance of Indonesian ethnic influences to wild jazz and fusion is so top-notch as to appeal to fans of a variety of styles; as long as you like music that crosses over between genres, you should thoroughly enjoy this rich experience of a marriage between Sundanese percussion/flute and progressive fusion musings. With this release, Tohpati serves up a fine dish of musical performance that shows that combining one’s cultural music heritage with modern styles need not be a kitsch exercise in self-indulgence or consumer fads. Save the Planet truly comes highly recommended.