Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Dewa Budjana - Surya Namaskar - The Future Of Fusion In 2014

Surya Namaskar is destined to be a fusion classic. Dewa Budjana brings together tremendous guitar playing skills and equally impressive talent as a composer - add two fusion superstars (Vinnie Colaiuta and Jimmy Johnson) to the mix, throw in mix master Robert Feist (he engineered Allan Holdsworth's greatest records), and you have the perfect ingredients for success, and succeed this troop has.

Dewa Budjana is a huge pop/rock superstar in Indonesia with his long running, million selling outfit, Gigi, but it's in the realm of jazz that has Western eyes upon the guitarist. MoonJune Records, a small boutique label ran by Leonardo Pavkovic, has again delivered the goods - if you're the kind of listener who knows to trust certain small labels as one would a favorite movie director, Pavkovic's label will be right up your alley. I asked Dewa about his relationship with his label:

Dewa Budjana: "I met Leonardo in 2008 at an Allan Holdsworth concert in Singapore: he is Allan's manager. 
"Then, I met him again in 2009 when I visited his office during a trip for an Indonesian culture show. We met a few more times in Jakarta, and in 2012 he decided to start releasing my albums on his label. 
"Leonardo has supported me in many ways, introducing me to his vast worldwide network. He promotes the albums on his label very well, sending hundreds of promo copies around the world, generating a lot of reviews. Knowing that people around the world and writing about my music, or playing my music on various radio shows around the globe is very important to me!"

MoonJune does things right - from the product, to the packaging, to promotions, they don't skimp on things and that's great to see in an age in which things aren't always this way.

Surya Namaskar is definitely a global accomplishment - in the words of music journalist and author, Raymond Benson, "East meets West and ignites the sky! Dewa Budjana's latest, a collaboration with jazz giants Jimmy Johnson and Vinnie Colaiuta, elevates guitar-based jazz fusion with a Balinese flair to new plateaus of nirvana. Mahavishnu, move over: there's a new master on the block!"

One listen to this album is all that's required to cement this thought, but you'll find yourself going back for lots of extra helpings as you're bedazzled again and again by the sounds, textures, tunes, and superlative performances. I wondered how he made the journey from growing up in the Far East to recording high octane jazz in Los Angeles with the best hired hands in the world:

Dewa Budjana: "I am originally Balinese, but I grew up in Surabaya, the second largest Indonesian city in East Java, moving to the capital Jakarta in the mid 80s.  
"My journey as a musician started at the age of eleven, when I got my first guitar. While in junior high school, I started playing in a folk/rock band. 
"But everything changed when I discovered John McLaughlin playing on Mahavishnu Orchestra's album, Birds Of Fire. From then on I explored the jazz-rock fusion of Weather Report, Pat Metheny, Bill Frisell, Jeff Beck, Allan Holdsworth, and the progressive rock of Yes, Gentle Giant, and ELP. Later, I got into the jazz of Chick Corea, Jan Garbarek, and many more."

Listening to the sympathetic vibrations laid down by Colaiuta and Johnson, you'd think that they'd been playing with Budjana for years - Kalingga, an over nine minute epic is an amazing testament to the relative skills involved as the tune moves silkily from section to section in a manner that suggests the prog-rock legends Budjana has just mentioned. However, when I asked Dewa how he chose and prepped Johnson and Colaiuta for the record, I frankly found his answer rather shocking:

Dewa Budjana: "Vinnie and Jimmy were on my wish list of musicians with whom I wanted to play; they are very famous in my country amongst musicians, and that's a dream rhythm team. 
"Once I decided which tunes to use for the session, I exchanged ideas with Jimmy Johnson. He is such a great guy, and is very helpful with that process of preparation, and I sent him charts and mp3s of demos. 
"I sent charts for four songs for the first session in LA in January 2014. I was very busy with my other projects with not so much time for the whole preparation. Kalingga was actually composed during my flight from Jakarta to LA. I was humming in my seat and imagining players doing what I imagined. I noted my thoughts on my iPhone and after landing in LA, I wrote all the notation on my computer on Sibelius software in a few hours. Having that extra song is how we recorded five tunes in that session.     
"Jimmy also told me that Vinnie actually doesn't listen to demos - he simply likes to come in the studio and play what he has to play. Actually, that's what happened, and all the drum parts played by Vinnie on my record are first takes! 
"That tune came out of me spontaneously, I didn't have time to think about influences, or references. It was possibly a subconscious result, a combination of my listening experience in progressive rock, and fusion, and my sensibility. I really do not know, it just came out that way, and I am very happy how it worked out, recorded in one take, and with no click! 
"Before I came to the studio, before the recording, I was pretty nervous, but once we started playing the first track, everything was smooth, natural, and organic. And, the presence of Leonardo in the studio during the recording was a very important factor." 

It's truly mind boggling and a testament to the musicians involved - without rehearsals and in just two sessions, Budjana has created a true classic. The album is rife with jaw dropping chops, and the virtuosity on display is astounding, but at the end of the day it is the music - the songs, that comes across. Capistrano Road is dedicated to Allan Holdsworth, written after Dewa had visited the master's home, but while the tune tips its hat to the legacy, it charts its own course. Hearing Colaiuta's toms tumble after and alongside Budjana's soloing is sublime, and when Johnson follows with a solo of his own, bliss is achieved.

The title track, which translates to a yoga pose known as 'good morning sunshine,' guests LA studio legend Michael Landau, who turns in a bluesy solo as the tune sonically takes us back to the days when studio musicians could make a go of it by laying down acres of gorgeously chorused Strat tones on hit records. Melodic in the extreme, this is easy listening that still manages to intellectually challenge the most demanding of ears.

Another inspired choice made by Pavkovic and Budjana was in hiring Robert Feist to mix, and master the record - best known for engineering Holdsworth's best albums, he's succeeded here in a grand fashion, making this one of the most ear pleasing releases I've heard in years:

Dewa Budjana: "Jimmy Johnson introduced me to Robert, he recorded many Allan Holdsworth albums, and I was absolutely satisfied with all the work he has done during two sessions (five tunes in January 2014 and three more in October 2014). His mixes are excellent, and I will use him in the future. My NYC album was recorded by the great Randy Crafton of Kaleidoscope Studio in the NYC area, but I will use Robert for the mixing and mastering."

Surya Namaskar is by any measure a great album - regardless of how it was conceived and created. Dewa Budjana is a musical force to be reckoned with, and this is only the beginning of what should become a beautiful relationship. As if this weren't enough, the hard working guitarist has already recorded his next MoonJune release, and effort that sees him teaming up with more jazz legends - this time it's New York, and the sidemen are those who often accompany another Budjana influence, Pat Metheny:

Dewa Budjana: "Leonardo suggested that I record an album in New York, since I've recorded the previous albums in Los Angeles. New York has a very different vibe, and I had a week free from my busy schedule in January of this year. 
"I had a fixed idea to record with Antonio Sanchez and Leonardo helped me secure him for the session and then we went in search for the upright bass player and piano player. I really wanted to have an album with a double bass player, my old dream. A few well known bass players such as John Patitucci, Eddie Gomez, Christian McBride, and Larry Grenadier weren't available. Antonio suggested Ben Williams to Leonardo and I liked the idea. 
"Many pianists we were looking for were unavailable on those specific few dates when Antonio was available because he had a very busy schedule and a huge upcoming tour with Pat Metheny Unity Group. Leonardo suggested Aaron Parks and Vijay Iyer, two great pianists of the new upcoming gneration of piano masters, but again, everybody was busy. And then Leonardo came up with a wonderful idea to use his old friend and a marvelous vibraphonist Joe Locke. 
"So, from having in mind an acoustic pianist, I ended up with a vibraphonist, and the session was simply great. That album will be out in September, or October 2014. Being able to make an album with the current rhythm section of one of my guitar heroes is an honor and a privilege, and I'd love to continue our collaboration."

When he's not busy, and he's never not busy, Budjana has also found time to developed and open Museum Gitarku (http://www.museumgitarku.com/), a collection of his vast array of personal instruments, as well as pieces donated by some of the world's best known players as a contribution to the people of Bali and Indonesia who have so invaluably contributed to his astounding success.
Some of Dewa's personal collection
 Surya Namaskar can be found here (HD audiophile download 24bit/96khz or MP3-320):  http://moonjunerecords.bandcamp.com/album/surya-namaskar-24-96khz

Physical CD available on MoonJune Records' website:

Dewa Budjana's website:

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