Leonardo Pavkovic doesn’t much believe in boundaries. The founder of the New York-based MoonJune Records is fluent in six languages, but mainly works in the one that unites them all: music.
This weekend, Pavkovic is taking the stage as the keynote speaker at the Indonesian Music Expo (IMEX) 2012 in Denpasar, Bali. The event, described as “a two-day world music celebration featuring outstanding Indonesian and international musicians,” is something well in line with Pavkovic’s own values.
His label MoonJune, founded in 2001, develops close relationships with jazz and progressive rock musicians from different continents and different cultural backgrounds.
“The ongoing goal of MoonJune is to support music that transcends stylistic pigeon-holing, but operates within an evolutionary progressive musical continuum that places jazz at one end and rock at the other,” he says. “Where is the freedom if limits and boundaries are imposed, either by musicians, by the press or by the fans? I like equally improvised and non-improvised music; each has its own value and beauty.”
Pavkovic has a particular fondness for Indonesia and its music (and food), having visited many times to liaise with various international artists as a tour manager and producer. He was most recently in Jakarta as tour manager for several blues artists performing at the Jakarta Blues Festival on Oct. 13.
Since 2007, he has been an enthusiastic promoter of Indonesian jazz-rock music and released several albums with artists here, many of them incorporating an ethnic flavor. He is a great supporter of Indonesian keyboardist Riza Arshad, who is the composer and leader of ethno-contemporary group simakDialog and a mentor to many young jazz musicians.
“[Riza is] an amazing pianist with great touch and ECM sensibility,” he says, referring to the Edition of Contemporary Music, a world-renowned label of European jazz and classical music. “I’ve also encouraged him to liberate himself and challenge his artistic ego with evolutionary and free music spirit, without being afraid to say musically what he wants to say.”
Pavkovic first heard simakDialog via the group’s third album, “Trance Mission” (2002). On that album, Riza replaced the usual drummer with three percussionists on Sundanese instruments such as the kendang , kanrang and ceng ceng .
Inspired by the fusion of musical styles, Pavkovic invited the group to produce two albums with MoonJune, “Patahan” (2007) and “Demi Masa” (2009), with another lined up for release early next year.
Thanks to the exposure, simakDialog’s guitarist Tohpati, who has long been a session musician for Indonesian pop stars such as Krisdayanti and Chrisye, is now forging an international reputation in the same rank as Terje Rypdal and John McLaughlin.
Tohpati has branched out from simakDialog with the release of two albums via MoonJune, released under two different band names: Tohpati Ethnomission’s “Save The Planet” (2010) and, earlier this year, Tohpati Bertiga’s “Riot.”
These are two very different albums, yet both reflect Pavkovic’s eclectic music tastes.
The group Tohpati Ethnomission is very much an extension of the ethno-jazz of simakDialog. Diki Suwarjiki plays the Sundanese bamboo flute, the suling , percussionist Endang Ramdan plays the kendang , gong , and kenong and 19-year-old Balinese prodigy Demas Narawangsa plays drums and the traditional percussion instruments rebana and kempluk .
Providing the bass underpinning Tohpati’s inventive guitar work on both albums is Indro Hardjodikoro, who, with his own group, The Fingers, recently toured Central Europe and Russia.
On drums for Tohpati Bertiga is Adityo “Bowo” Wibowo, who has played at European blues festivals with the popular Gugun Blues Shelter. Bertiga’s music evinces a telepathic rapport among three friends, with superb soloing and a relentless gritty rhythm.
Pavkovic says that “this album further cements Tohpati’s rightful place among the highest echelon of today’s guitar giants.”
Meanwhile, “Riot” will give fans hours of joy playing air guitar in front of their mirrors, or cruising down an empty tollroad.
Another Indonesian guitar-led power trio is Ligro, whose album “Dictionary 2” was released to international acclaim earlier this year. Guitarist Agam Hamzah’s amazingly agile playing is underpinned by the solid backing of bassist Adi Darmawan and busy drummer Gusti Hendi.
Agam cites as an influence John McLaughlin, as “the one in jazz who structured modern composition between free form ideas and rock guitar strike, with skillful improvisation.”
Those who attended the Gili Trawangan Jazz Festival in April this year were thrilled by Ligro, who played for 73 minutes non-stop.
First stop Lombok, next the world? Agam hopes so. He says that the MoonJune release “is a big opportunity for me and Ligro to have an international career. I also hope I will be one of the Indonesian musicians able to contribute to jazz worldwide.”
As the music industry continues to migrate online, artists outside the mainstream are increasingly gaining access to the wider global market, breaking down boundaries of language, culture and genre. For Pavkovic’s MoonJune Records and the Indonesian artists it promotes, this borderless future looks bright.