Slimmed down and rocking to make spirits smile, Balinese guitarist finds a new location for his ongoing quest.
Ever since Dewa Budjana signed to MoonJune a decade ago, the Indonesian artist’s albums have felt increasingly precious – like a rafflesia, only possessed of sweet aroma to match its impressive look – and his listener used to know they were in for something special. Yet while 2016’s double-disc "Zentuary" seemed bent on stunning everyone on synesthetic level, its successor is much more streamlined in rock terms to suggest the master is as prone to having a poker-face fun as he is dedicated to the wonder of sound. With an all-American ensemble on his side this time around, the balance of exotic and radio-friendly melodies in Budjana’s music was redefined to an extent where Dewa’s influences not only become clear, the guitarist tipping his harmonic hat to Steve Hackett a few times, but also drive the entire experience in many a moment.
Drinking from local, Balinese source is essential for shaping the emotions of “Hyang Giri” which has Soimah Pancawati’s gentle vocals enhancing the blistering interplay of soloists, yet “Crowded” and “Zone” – the album’s gambit and finale, both sung by John Frusciante, who adds axe fills on the former and goes soft-to-tense on the latter – that signify Budjana’s current developments. Dewa’s moving toward something naysayers may see as commercialism but what, in fact, must be perceived as an extension of his experiments, the embracing of Western idiom without sacrificing Eastern heritage. Once the opening splash of Jordan Rudess’ piano is fleshed out with six-string stratum, the instrumental elegy could become unbearably beautiful if not for the deliberately dry voice delivering vulnerability and screams into the record’s heart, full of riffs and flutter, before synthesizers and Marco Minnemann’s drums begin to rage in earnest. Still, pure prog passages in the dramatic “Queen Kanyan” are compromised with fusion, as Mohini Dey’s elastic bass and konnakol – this frantic scat – spank the ivories’ light and shade to up the piece’s energy and unleash Budjana’s own brief assault.
He lets Mike Stern perform the first solo on “ILW” and launch a quasi-orchestral blizzard for the ensemble to swirl around lyrical licks peeled off the leader’s fretboard, but whereas “Jung Oman” is flowing in on a Rachmaninoff-like ripple, it’s down to Dewa’s guitar to keep romance reined in and then distill the carefully crafted balladry to a delicate acoustic lace – translucent and high on expectancy. And lthough the title track will exude an air of jazz for technique’s sake, when the improv gets properly heated to boil, the not-so-fragile is restored to reign, making the album a playful digression in Budjana’s unpredictable discography.