‘Jazz buffet’ is how a friend put it, and that pretty much summed up the 9th Java Jazz Festival in Jakarta. Taking place in the first three days of March, the festival packed in 180 performances on 17 stages. It highlighted Western jazz and pop stars such as Bob James, Stanley Clark and Lisa Stansfield as well as Indonesian favourites such as Dwiki Dharmawan, Oddie Agam and Ran.
The festival’s open format worked well. Daily and 3-day passes allowed access to almost all performances, except the four special performances which cost extra.
Like a good buffet, one could literally walk in and sample musical performances from some of the world’s and Indonesian finest musicians, stay a bit and nibble or move on an try something new. In some cases the stages were literally next to each other with one band performing while the other was setting up next door. Being Indonesia, one of the more rhythmically inclined Asian countries, the bass and drums seemed to be mixed on the high side, which I liked, but tough on the ears after three, eight-hour full-on days.
The lack of international sponsors gave it a more local feel. Noticeably absent were Coke, Pepsi and almost all Western brands except for two small stalls selling booze, Heineken and Jack Daniels. These were sparsely populated as about 90% of Indonesians are Muslim.
But there were plenty of Indonesian ones to keep fill up the sponsorship list. Event sponsor, cigarette maker Djarum, plastered the venue with its brand name, advertisements, and identically clad saleswomen/models. Indonesian household names such as Tehbotol (sugary ice-tea beverage), BNI (large bank) and Telkomsel (large Telcom) and many others battled for our attention.
Like a good buffet hard choices had to be made. This included having to choose between Spyro Gyra, Kenny Garrett and the special-performance of Joss Stone who were literally playing at the same time on the first night. I went to the latter having already paid for a ticket, only to leave about a third of the way into it to check out other performances. I had been spoiled earlier in the evening by local power pop band Ran who gave an amazing performance that had the hijab covered honeys yelling and swooning, and Jimmy Cliff who at some 65 years old high stepped his way to some of his classics.
Some of the highlights of the show included hearing the same Jimmy Cliff doing the Partridge Family theme song, George Duke and Stanley Clark cover a Parliament-Funkadelic tune and incredible musicianship from Spyro Gyra’s drummer and bassist.
Perhaps the best part of the festival was sampling newer acts - or at least new to me. Kaori Kobayashi from Japan plays some serious sax despite here ‘kawai’ appearance and mannerisms; Maurice Brown from Louisiana brought down the house with his trumpet playing; and Jamaican Cafe, who are from Indonesian and were not listed on the program, gave an amazing acapella performance in-between acts. Other notables were Louisiana’s brass/soul/funk band Soul Rebels, California’s beatbox expert Butterscotch and Indoneia’s soulful The ExtraLarge. There were also numerous impromptu bands and performances. One of the most memorable was stumbling on a latin jazz jam session in which the spectator in front of me took over one of the four drum sets and started leading the session.
While the festival was all-in-all very good, I did have some peeves. The major one being the closeness of the venues meant that sound from one venue tended to draft into another. Also, being addicted, I missed easy access to Diet Coke, my drug-of-choice.
But this is not to detract from the great music and time. The festival was very well organised. Shows by-and-large started on time. The venues were clean and the sound was very good. Despite the tobacco company sponsorship there were few people smoking.
All-in-all it was a great festival and something that I’ll make an effort for in the future.