Gamelan of Java - Vol. 5: Cirebon tradition in America
Lyrichord Discs LYRCH 7461 (www.lyrichord.com)
This is a unique album. Cirebon is an old city and cultural centre located on the north coast plains of the island of Java, Indonesia. This CD is the first commercial recording of all five types of traditional gamelan music still practiced in the courts of the Cirebon Sultans today. For most listeners it will be a fresh window on the aristocratic and ritual music of a 500-year-old culture little celebrated or known even in its own home country.
As we hear on this album, Cirebon gamelan music is made primarily by an ensemble of tuned and un-tuned percussion instruments, occasionally embellished by the suling, the bamboo ring flute. Vocalisations by the musicians also sometimes delightfully peek through and enliven the instrumental texture. Overall the voices of these gamelans are more intimate than either of its larger and better-known South Central Javanese or Balinese gamelan cousins.
The Californian musicians of Gamelan Sinar Surya under the skilled and dedicated direction of Cirebon gamelan expert Richard North (he has been playing this music for a remarkable 35 plus years) bring out the best in each type of repertoire. They provide a welcome variety in mood, emotional value, sound quality, tonal organisation, tempo, timbral texture and note density. More than providers of entertainment, some gamelan (sets) represented here are valued for their deep spiritual associations. Such sets include the Gong Sekati, the Gong Renteng, and the magically imbued gamelan called Denggung on which is played the outstanding track Wawa Bango.
If I were forced to pick a single favourite track, it would be Pacul Goang (Chipped Rice Hoe). It is full of the sort of vibrant musical life I associate with gamelan Cirebon performance, the hallmarks of which include the dynamic playing of the kendang and larger bedug (drums), the characteristically sweet suling riffs in the soft slower sections, and the alok vocalisations of the musicians imbuing life and special Cirebonese flavour to the instrumentals.
Being the first CD to lift the musty, dusty tarp off this special gamelan repertoire, it is a requisite for any world music course, world music student or casual enthusiast.