All it takes is 3 chords and a dream!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Review: Levit/Susilo - Asmarandana

Levit/Susilo - Asmarandana
2007, Symbol System 0701

Emiko Saraswait Susilo and Rob Levit created an entrancing album in 2007, entitled Asmarandana. Asmarandana is a form of Javanese Macapat (poetry) that is sung. The form uses lines of multiple lengths in a prescribed pattern and generally tends to be love songs. Levit and Susilo met through UCLA's Center For Intercultural Performance's APPEX program. Levit is known of his Rob Levit Trio, well known in Jazz circles in California, and Susilo is a founding member of Balis Cudamani, which has toured Indonesia, Greece, the US and Canada.

Susilo has one of those voices where you wish she'd just sing all day, and Levit has a supple hand on the guitar, crafting simple-yet-perfect arrangements that touch on Pop, Lounge and Jazz styles. Asmarandana opens with Ati Bolong, a gorgeous and seemingly tragic tune (my Javanese vocabulary rests squarely at zero words). Susilo is enthralling here. Rep Sidhem dances out of Susilo's mouth at times, carrying its weight with grace. Susilo explores her upper register to good effect, with a strong clear soprano voice that floats over the song. Asmarandana is a slow, contemplative song with an almost ethereal feel. The guitar work here is exquisitely subtle, filling around Susilo's voice like a second skin. Suwe Ora Jamu plays like a Easy Listening/Jazz tune. Levit is at his best here, and Susilo's vocal line is sweet and searching.

Galang Bulan is stark and gorgeously played, steeped in vocal harmonies and sparse guitar accompaniment; providing perhaps the most poignant and memorable moments on the album. Demonya Tukang Bonang is compelling, with a highly rhythmic guitar part that sounds like something Ani DiFranco might have written. The song has an urgent, vibrant feel that takes the listener by the band and leads you along. Levit and Susilo hit a Latin Jazz sound on Welha, with Levit getting to show off some serious licks on guitar. Asmarandana closes with the seven-minute-plus Improvisation, a highly rhythmic and variable piece of musical performance art that will sit better with some listeners than others. Susilo lets herself go completely, sounding the best she has on the album, while Levit extracts every possible sound imaginable from his guitar (along with a few that weren't).

Rob Levit and Emiko Saraswait Susilo have created a compelling sound and style on Asmarandana. The blending of musical styles creates a listening experience whose sum is greater than the talents of the two primary performers. Susilo has a beautiful voice that is better heard than described. It's not perfect in tone by western standards, but there is an authenticity in both sound and style that eludes many performers. Levit is, quite simply, a world class guitarist, so marked both what he does with the guitar as what he does not. Levit/Susilo is likely to be around for a good long time. Make sure you take a few minutes and check out their fine album, Asmarandana.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Levit/Susilo at You can purchase a copy of Asmarandana on either CD or as a Download through

No comments: