On the eve of the release of her debut studio album, Indonesian jazz piano phenomenon Metta Legita talked with Leng Pleng about how the tracks were put together, what will be happening at the launch event in Phnom Penh and how different composers and styles have influenced her work.
1. Here’s Freedom
Hi Metta, thanks for talking with us! The music you play is identifiably ‘jazz’ – classic piano, bass, guitar and horn format – but there are other styles going on there too. ‘Here’s Freedom’, for example, reminds me of classic 1970’s Era Stevie Wonder. How do you personally describe your music?
I am influenced by the music I’ve studied… every era of music from the Renaissance period until the 20th and 21st Century. All the music that I heard, it became my signature… it’s like blending…
Some of my compositions, the oldest, the songs ‘Dreams and ‘Between Us’ is music I composed for my bachelor degree – two songs I wrote for my graduation recital. A string quartet version of ‘Between Us’… and ‘Dreams’ was arranged for a big band.
This album is the opening of the door… my first journey. I started with my oldest songs, from 2009 or 2010… afterwards, I will make another colour! ‘Scenic Spirit’ has a few songs with a minor color but it’s not really sad. The spirit is about energy… still positive… with dynamics: from soft and beautiful… to anger!
‘Scenic Spirit’ is your debut album, but you’ve released tracks before, including many ambient/relaxation compositions, on your Youtube channel. Do you have a production suite/home recording setup?
Sure, I haven’t released anything officially but I have some recordings I have published on Youtube. I have a very small studio… just my keyboard, a small desk, that’s all. Since I moved to Phnom Penh… I wanted to do things the easiest way. I record piano very simply. I’m not a tech person but I do a song as best I can.
3. Scenic Spirit
‘Scenic Spirit’ live at Klab Jazz… that’s a cool video! What’s the music scene like in Indonesia, are there many places to play?
Klab Jazz is in Bandung, my home city – a province around three hours from Jakarta. My parents come from Bandung. There are a lot of places to play on the jazz scene… it’s quite happening. Indonesian people love jazz a lot. Not only people in their 40’s or 30’s… even teenagers… they already love it. Since jazz has become popular… there are big festivals in every province. We have 33 provinces in Indonesia and every big province has a jazz festival! Nowadays, a lot of the young musicians play jazz. Joey Alexander, a young Indonesian jazz pianist, became a phenomenon… the first to be nominated for a Grammy award. After that jazz came to a bigger audience.
I love both classical music and jazz, I studied both. My patience is more towards jazz. But I was influenced more by classical harmony and theory. Jazz is a 20th Century or 19th Century music but if we study music and study the history of music we cannot close our eyes to the music popular in previous years. That’s why I studied classical music… from Bach to the Romantic era, Ravel, Debussy. It has influenced me a lot.
4. I’ll Be Back
This track, as all but one of the eight tracks on the album, runs more than seven minutes. In your music, is the structure of the songs predetermined or do you decide that ‘on-the-fly’? Was the album played live or laid down track-by-track, instrument-by-instrument? Where and when was the album recorded?
We rehearse the band first. We have the chart which I give them: this is the intro, how long for the solo… after we play together, we will have the same form… then there is a lot of improvisation within that form. All my compositions were recorded live, no tracking, except in the case of the second track, ‘Dreams’, which featured guitar player Iwan Hasan. I recorded the trio live: piano, contrabass and drums – but he could not attend when we were recording so he recorded his part later.
The album was recorded in Indonesia last year and this year… two times, two sessions of recording in Jakarta. I made the first five songs in Indonesia and the last three were recorded in Phnom Penh in early 2018: The Thought of You, Never Again and Seven Octaves Blues.
5. Between Us
This track has an exquisite intro… very atmospheric… have you ever composed scores for films?
Yes, i have composed music for film (it was a short movie) but I focus more on purely music composition. ‘Between Us’ is an original composition I wrote for my graduation. My piano teacher asked me to compose a song. I worked a lot with the harmony, played with the colour. The chords can be [simple] but… free. How to make [the harmony] set you free but still be beautiful? That was when I studied the theory.
If you were to play these [reharmonised] chords in pop music it would be weird… the interval of the chords is moving around… but you can make it become beautiful. If you analyse the music theory for this song, it’s going to be difficult… it’s out of the diatonic [Sol-Fa] progression.
6. Never Again
We hear your lead vocals on tracks ‘Never Again’ and ‘Scenic Spirit’. Unsurprisingly for someone with your level of musical talent, you have a great voice! Can we expect to hear you sing any jazz vocals at Phnom Penh gigs anytime soon what is your all time favourite track to sing late at night in a KTV?
I cannot say its like singing, more like jazz, scat singing. I will sing one or two songs at the album launch event at Chinese House on Sunday the 5th August. I like to sing swing songs, old stuff. Ballads are hard.
7. The Thought of You
This track features Stan Paleco on lead guitar, will Stan be with you at the live launch gig?
Yes, Stan will be there, along with Toma Willen (drums), Andrey Meshcheryakov (bass guitar), my friend Rudy Zulkanaen (double bass) and Brury Efendy (trumpet). We’ll perform the entire album, followed by some jazz cover songs.
8. Seven Octaves Blues
This track recalls golden greats of the jazz piano like Art Tatum or Thelonious Monk. Which players have influenced your playing the most?
‘7 Octaves Blues’ is a blues form, you would use this for jamming. We loved this song when we recorded it. I am influenced by, right now, McCoy Tyner. I like Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson Michel Petrucciani. Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Ahmed Jamal and Omar Sosa. I don’t really transcribe directly from their playing, I listen to the character. Tyner is very different to Bill Evans. Every song is different. I love the spirit of Tyner, modern colour. The swing style of Bill Evans.
Metta, we really appreciate your time and we love the album, best of luck with the release!
Thanks, Leng Pleng. The album is going to be distributed in conjunction with my media partner ‘INSIDE’ (based in Jakarta Indonesia). You’ll be able to find it on Spotify, iTunes, etc. The physical Audio CD will be distributed in Indonesia and South East Asia by music label demajors.
– METTA LEGITA…
…was interviewed by Joe Wrigley