Westward-bound, Indonesian six-string-slinger takes on the world and gently wins.
Look at the cover: a guitar on one’s back suggests traveling and, lately, Dewa Budjana’s journey has been leading him from the local, if nation-wide, fame to a place where performers of great renown are honored to share the stage with the Balinese master. He may go for a compromise here, sacrificing the rootsiness of it all, yet such a loss is also a gain, as Budjana’s music gets enriched with American and European influences, while Dewa’s homeland is always there, in between the notes.
That’s what he calls “kahyangan” which means “heaven” and draws a direct line to this album from 2013’s critically acclaimed "Dawai In Paradise", although there’s a significant shift between the two records, in terms of both different melodicism and in instrumental approach. One can’t set the foot wrong with a modern jazz elite for a band, but Budjana takes a step further, delegating tunes and arrangements for his stellar guests to work around while staying, sometimes as a ghostly, if imposing, presence in the back, at the very heart of this whirl of a platter.
Laid down during a day-long session, first takes being the only rehearsal for the ensemble, the album is amazingly textured, richly embroidered with folk motifs on the mantric-cum-anthemic groove of the harmonically uplifting “Guru Mandala” which also hide in the acoustic reverie of “Joged Kahyangan” that could shatter the fusion mountains were it not so delicate and jubilant at the same time as Dewa lets Jimmy Johnson’s bass and Bob Mintzer’s clarinet build the tension before his gentle lace brings it to a close. Dewa alchemically marries this Indonesian exuberance to Jewish sensuality on soulful “As You Leave My Nest” that is delivered with passion and panache by THE MANHATAN TRANSFER’s chanteuse Janis Siegel and showcases Larry Goldings’ Hammond, ever more celestial in this song’s wordless alter ego, “Borra’s Ballad,” wherein guitar is the leading voice.
That’s an alternative kind of serenity to the elegiac one introduced in opener “Foggy Cloud” where subtle solos shoot from the instrumental convergence – Mintzer’s sax adding sunshine to the main man’s chords when they get heavy and once they ebb away – albeit platforms of unison float throughout the record. But “Dang Hyang Story” brings a riffy angularity to the table in which Peter Erskine’s drums come to the fore and refuse to meld into the background even with the rest of the group weave their spells. Yet while “Erskoman” wears his name on the sleeve, the skin-hitter is mostly cast in supporting role here for the guitar and organ crunch until the percussion burst to the surface once again. Budjana’s own weapon gives name to “Majik Blue,” a potential source for a powerful live improvisation which is revealed once this, the most jazzy piece on offer, changes gears and forays into the rock territory if only to jive gracefully there. “Joged” means “dancing” and, on hearing this album, one’s soul must be moved to do exactly so. A pure bliss.