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SURYA NAMASKAR: Dewa Budjana takes listeners on surprising trips

Dewa Budjana “Surya Namaskar” album [March 15, 2014 MoonJune Records]

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My goal has been to blend the music of my country with contemporary Western music, which I’ve always done on my previous records.

Indonesian guitarist Dewa Budjana follows up the charted progression of “Dawai In Paradise” and “Joged Kahyangan” with a more live “Surya Namaskar.”
Aga Dilaga

Much of Dewa Budjana’s “Surya Namaskar” album feels raw, with a surprise in the juicy breaks. That’s because the Indonesian guitarist and his world-renowned guest stars laid down most of the tracks live on the floor, with very few overdubs or retakes.

A name in his kingdom of Indonesia, and fast becoming one in parts beyond, Dewa Gede Budjana has translated his early proficiency on guitar, his prolificacy of inspiration in composition, and his ear for textural resonance into mesmerizing recording progressions. He broke through nationally as the lead guitarist and songwriter with the Indonesian pop/rock band Gigi before hitting jazz-rock and world music styles just as hard.

His previous albums featured an ease of mind-blowing technique with a fluidity of movement, crossing those traditional genres, with a hard-to-reach and harder-to-label exotic touch that has only seen full reach in this March 15th release, his seventh as a solo artist. Budjana also recruits some of the busiest, most elusive jazz greats as a part of his recording band.

On his February 2013 international release, “Dawai In Paradise,” Budjana boasted drummer Peter Erskine and the late Dave Carpenter to help flesh out his idea of progressive jazz and world music. The April 2013 release of “Joged Kahyangan (Dances Of Heaven)” saw Budjana try his hand at more composed jazz with Erskine back on drums, Bob Mintzer, Jimmy Johnson, Larry Goldings, and Janis Siegel on a special number she wrote. Budjana’s charts are so comprehensive and his personnel so competent that they were able to record this entire album in one day without rehearsals.

In his seventh and latest album, Budjana relies on some heavy-hitting stars to again try out new music in as raw a moment as possible. He was able to get bassist Jimmy Johnson, electric guitarist Michael Landau, and drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, as well as guitarist Gary Husband (on synth for the first track) for “Surya Namaskar.”

The recording took only two sessions in L.A. last year, most of it in one take. While Budjana prepared the basic tracks (charts, clicks, sequencer, demo MP3s) in Jakarta beforehand for the recording band to go over, Colaiuta mostly winged it during the actual studio recording, feeding off the vibes of Budjana and fretless bassist Johnson.

That explains the wild and free, formless vibe when listening to “Surya Namaskar.” All eight of Budjana’s original compositions play through in subconscious waves, the perfect album to pop into the car stereo for a coastal road trip, tripping past sun-dappled, wind-kissed landscapes of ever-subtly shifting blues and earth tones. “Surya Namaskar” comes from the yoga position, “Good morning, sunshine” after all, so it fits.

Tracks just keeps surprising me. I have no idea where the music is gonna go and what sounds I’m going to hear next. Even though I played on those tracks! Hahaha! This is truly unusual music! Thanks, Dewa, for inviting us along for your trip. –Jimmy Johnson

“I wanted to do another album after ‘Joged Kahyangan’ that was stylistically different – more edgy and with more distorted guitar, with a different overall sound,” Budjana said. For this to happen, Budjana had to let go of the control of his more formal pieces in the two precious MoonJune recordings, which he does quite happily. While loose, informal, and at times, wild, Budjana’s songs always take the listener to an emotional place, via a gallant escort, or a pile-driving catapult.

Budjana manages to show off his enormous chops without showing off. The point is to get there, to the feeling, not to fill spaces with an audition-worthy series of mindless shredding. “Duaji & Guruji,” (meaning “grown man and guru,” in Balinese) gets straight to the point, recklessly (but not haphazardly) harvesting enormous melodic content with the personality in those surreal guitar breaks along the way — a fine tribute to John McLaughlin, a guitar hero Budjana would love to play with in the future.

For the most part, Budjana kept his cross-cultural inclinations to a minimum in previous international albums. In this one, however, he let it out, fusing his Indonesian/Asian origins with his adopted loves of the jazz-rock of an Allan Holdsworth, and world music, maintaining an elusive, haunting melody. “My goal has been to blend the music of my country with contemporary Western music, which I’ve always done on my previous records,” Budjana explained.

“Dalem Waturenggong” blends Budjana — in the Indonesian-sounding chorus — with Western music, heavy on the progressive jazz-rock. Check out the heavy bass and guitar exchange at the 5:23 mark, making their own beat and their own elongated tempo.

The best example of Budjana’s success with releasing more of his cultural influence on a less restrained note is in “Kalingga,” the longest song on the record at nine minutes, 10 seconds. “Kalingga” immediately sets the stage for a journey through the less-traversed villages of Indonesia in the vocals of Mang Ayi, the use of the indigenous Tarawangsa (Sundanese violin) by Kang Pupung and Kacapi (Sundanese harp) by Kang Iya, and Budjana’s electric sitar overdubs.

“Kalingga” suffers a bit from a lack of originality in the familiar, basic melody, which pops up now and then, as if to remind the listener that this is a song and not a special effect. (“Capistrano Road” is another version of the same melodic déjà vu.)

But there’s no denying the force of the personalities in the room, in their choice of special effects. “Yes, notes were just flying in the studio. We didn’t have any rehearsal; ‘Kalingga’ was recorded with no click and no backing tracks, [just] live in studio, and very improvised. At the end of the tune, Vinnie said, ‘Dewa is playing some death metal!’; I think that’s his favorite tune on the album.”

After the weaving of India and West Java is dispensed with, the boys drive a completely different bus off the cliff at the 6:08 mark. Seemingly disparate and rough, Budjana leads on guitar as Colaiuta and Johnson follow in loud, rambunctious succession, trying to leave their own jagged detours.

At times, Dewa Budjana’s “Surya Namaskar” is a trip through his country of origin and his impressions as an evolving fusion guitarist. This is a musician who knows who he is and how to let loose when he has to. He’s able to contain an awful lot of original, multi-cultural ideas by giving the listener just enough of a gist to want more.

The next album’s already in the works, scheduled for an October release, with drummer Antonio Sanchez, vibist Joe Locke, and upright bassist Ben Williams (2009 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Bass winner). It’s sure to be another departure for Budjana.

As Jimmy Johnson and Vinnie Colaiuta say on track one, “Crazy!”