- Smooth melding of styles
Despite his fame as lead guitarist and songwriter of the Indonesian pop/rock band Gigi, Dewa Budjana’s skills as both a musician and composer extend far beyond pop and into the jazz world with his strong body of solo work. Dewa’s road to establishing himself as perhaps Indonesia’s most highly regarded guitarist started as a youngster and expanded as his interests broadened to the jazz and prog of Mahavishnu Orchestra, Yes, Chick Corea, Gentle Giant, Pat Methany, and many others. If there is one thing I can say about Dewa, it’s that he is diverse player with a knack for blending jazz, classical, and folk as he lays out songs which are incredibly accessible while still being challenging; not an easy feat if I do say so myself.
2013 saw the release of Dewa Budjana’s fifth solo record, this one being relased on MoonJune Records, a label which I have quickly come to associate with the wonderful mission to sign artists that show no fear of crossing genre boundaries. Dawaii in Paradise is an album that constantly explores territory between styles; whether it be bouncing back and forth between songs or delicately mixing and matching influences within a single section, Dewa covers loads of terrain with his unique world/jazz/classical hybridity. The album shows itself to be a celebration of culture, beauty, positive atmosphere, and tasteful chops with a number of surprises, twists and turns that will surely delight fans of world music and progressive jazz.
On Dewaii in Paradise Dewa basically spreads around the types of songs so that as you’re listening to the album there’s a strong feeling of variety. For convenience sake I’ll be talking about them more in terms of grouping by similarity rather than by track order. On one side there’s the more openly jazz influenced pieces such as “Lalu Lintas,” and “Malacca Bay.” The album opener, “Lalu Lintas” kicks it off with descending bass-lines and odd effects before locking into a steady groove. Nice harmonies lightly explore tonal possibilities as keyboards highlight chord changes as melodies tight-walk between jazz and folk before diving into a quick double time repetition of the theme. The solo section is a stormy, chaotic clash of distorted bass, drum solos, and improvised guitar leads that give us quite the surprise when the main theme snaps back in sharp contrast to the preceding section. The effect is grand and definitely leaves a strong effect as the album gets underway. “Malacca Bay” offers us something very different, almost a sort of lounge feel as the piano intro goes from flamenco into speedy, but calming runs to lead us into the main theme on guitar. The drumming is pretty enjoyable on this one, with reserved snare/cymbal/tom work that keeps it in the background but remains solid throughout, providing a nice backdrop to some romantic piano and bass improvisation.
Then there’s perhaps what Dawaii in Paradise does best: combine catchy world music with jazz and hints of progressive. “Ganga” is a piece that immediately screams out folk with its catchy ethnic melodies and mesmerizing acoustic guitars backed with ‘aah-ing’ vocals. The track is happy and peaceful, evoking the “paradise” that the album title suggests. Ethnic percussion and some interesting atonal guitar phrasing with harmonizer give the song some uniqueness as it finishes off strong. “Masa Kecil” was a song that immediately shocked me; I was expecting to hear a lot of Asian influences on this album, but this piece delivers a mighty unexpected Celtic melody. After quick observation I noticed the light Asian feel, a hint of sitar backing the melody before adding in some Indonesian woodwinds to add newness and flavor. With lots of repetition and building of arrangements, this is a song that shows is coolness through cultural synthesis. Then there’s “On the Way Home,” a really awesome thing that opens up with tuned percussion before diving into arpgeggiator, drum/bass, and melodies on woodwinds and electric guitar. The hidden gem of this piece is the middle section that goes from a distorted guitar transition to a sudden ritardando of the drum kit and rubato acoustic guitar that flows in and out of classical and jazz phrasing. Watch out for the middle section of this one as it will surely make you grin.
I don’t think I would do the album justice without mentioning a couple of fantastic musical wanderings that bring a slight touch of darkness to this otherwise happy album. First, there’s “Caka,” a guitar driven piece that maintains a sort of relaxing and mournful neoclassical where I can’t help but sense a Brazilian touch. The atmosphere on “Caka” is off the charts and makes solid use of key changes about two thirds of the way through the song to provide an uplifting and dynamic transition into a little display of woodwinds and strings that briefly, but wonderfully, dance the melody around before the closing moments of the track. Continuing on a dark not, if you’re a fan of scary music like me you will surely be pleased by “Rerad Rerod” with its ghoulish textures, uncanny use of percussion, haunting vocal lines, and memorable motifs. And if that’s not enough, there’s a brilliant little solo over a Latin groove that should suit your fancy. Lastly, I must mention that “Devanda,” a melancholy mostly acoustic guitar piece (with minimal bass and keys to thicken the atmosphere) acts as a great closure to the record.
All in all, Dewa Budjana’s Dawaii in Paradise is a solid album that will surely add some good variety to your playlist. Whether you’re looking for something uplifting, moody, or even just flat out good guitar playing and catchy composition, fans of jazz and prog will likely find this an album to thoroughly enjoy.