Truly innovative music is hard to come by. Even when the familiar constraints that keep composers tied to tradition are shattered, the results are rarely memorable. And yet for Krakatau, Indonesia's premier jazz-fusion band, the amalgamation of indigenous styles combined with an American penchant for experimental improvisation has legitimately broken new ground in style and structure while managing to entertain fans on both sides of the Pacific.
On Friday, July 2, Krakatau will make a rare appearance in Colorado Springs, performing at Colorado College's Armstrong Hall as part of the Summer Festival of the Arts.
"In Indonesia, not many people are playing fusion music with much success," said Dwiki Dharmawan, who along with Pra Budi Dharma, co-founded the group in 1985. "Most musicians find that it's difficult to integrate the styles together without changing one to fit the other."
Yet in Krakatau's groundbreaking performances, the confluence of styles sounds deceptively simple. By combining Indonesian instruments such as the bonang (bronze knobbed gongs), kendang (double-headed barrel drums), kacapi (plucked zither), suling (bamboo flute), tarompet (double reed instrument), rebab (two-stringed spike flute), and ceng-ceng (cymbals) with American jazz techniques, Krakatau has revolutionized both styles of music and encouraged greater musical dialogue between Indonesian artists and their American counterparts.
Dharmawan, who hails from West Java, is a classically trained pianist whose interest in jazz at an early age was commensurate with his artistic allegiance to the unique Indonesian slendro (five-tone) scale. Dharmawan was interested in combining his musical interests into a new, vibrant fusion, but the practical implementation of his musical vision required forming a group with prodigious musical skills and a commitment to experimentation. Today, Krakatau manages to seamlessly integrate two very disparate musical traditions without making the combination seem contrived, partly because of the group members' notable improvisational skills, and partly because of Dharmawan's versatility as a composer and performer.
"The theory and structure of the styles we fuse together are totally different, but the only practical problem we had was tuning my keyboards and the electric bass to create the micro-tones in the five-tone scale," he said.
"In Indonesia we have our own classical music, and the tunings and scales that we use are based on those traditional forms," he said. "Krakatau is a chance for us to improvise and do solo parts."
The group, which also includes members Nyak Ina Rasoukie, Zainal Arifin, Adhe Rudhiana, Gerry Herb, Yoyon Dharsono, has been performing its experimental jazz-fusion compositions for the past 10 years, and the band's growing worldwide popularity has motivated the members to continually push the boundaries of musical structure and style.
Dharmawan, who also conducts the Indonesian Art Orchestra and directs the Farabi Music Educational Center in Jakarta, said that rather than targeting a specific audience, fans of both jazz and world music often find Krakatau's blend of traditional sounds and jazzy rhythms irresistible.
"I think we get such a good response from people because this is so rare," he said. "We are always taking chances."
-- Joe Kuzma
Armstrong Hall at Colorado College (Southwest corner of Cascade and Cache La Poudre avenues)
Friday, July 2, 7:30 p.m.
Free; Call 389-6606.