Dewa Budjana – Dawai In Paradise

As I begin to put this post together I have a soundtrack of samples from Dewa Budjana’s first international release out today on MoonJune Records (MJR 051). (The album was originally released here in December 2011.)

My muse is interrupted by a busker at my gate and this annoys me somewhat because it is rare that any of the many street musicians that I encounter here at home or on buses and trains force me to listen because I’m intrigued by their ‘voice’, an intuition that they have a musicality which is theirs alone.

Dewa does have a recognisable ‘voice’, one honed for the past 39 years since he was given a guitar at the age of eleven. A Balinese, his family moved to Surabaya in East Java where he took classical guitar lessons while still in high school.

Later he moved to Jakarta and took lessons from local jazz pioneer Jack Lesmana, whose son, Indra, a current jazz icon, encouraged Dewa to become a session guitarist. He joined Indra’s jazz group Java Jazz, which play(ed) jazz fused with Balinese and Sundanese pentatonic scales.

In 1994, with Armand Maulana on vocals, Dewa formed Gigi, a rock-pop band which is one of Indonesia’s most successful having released some 22 albums to date. (Video link below)

He has since released five albums under his own name, Dawai In Paradise being the fifth.

Six years ago, for my rewrite of Culture Shock! Jakarta, I conducted an email interview with Leonardo Pavkovic, proprietor of MoonJune Records, wanting his thoughts on the then current Indonesian jazz scene. (He was about to release Patahan, the fourth album by simakDialog, but their first international release.)

He said of Dewa Budjana: “There is an amazing guitarist … who has just made a great record featuring Dave Carpenter and Peter Erskine (drummer with Weather Report); the music was played and performed brilliantly, with great compositions, but the sound is a bit too ‘American’. Too polite. I wish he could do more unpolite music.

Well, that was then. On his Facebook page today he says: “I think only few tunes were a bit too polite, but some tunes are monster, I always wish that musicians go for the edge, and push their limits in whatever they do.”

Tracks such as Caka 1922 and On The Way Home in other hands, think Kenny G or Dave Koz,  would be bland elevator muzak. However, Dewa is a deeply spiritual man, and is able to tap into much deeper emotions: the latter track reduces me to a quivering jelly. 

Other tracks, such as Lalu Lintas (Traffic) and Gangga (Ganges) reflect his early jazz influences such John McLaughlin of both the Mahavishnu Orchestra and Shakti, as well as Bill Frisell, Jeff Beck, Pat Metheny and Weather Report.

For those unfamiliar with Dewa’s work, Dawai In Paradise is an excellent introduction, a pot pourri of styles which demonstrate his mastery of his instrument and genres, but with a distinct Indonesian ‘flavour’.

However, I feel that his next two albums should demonstrate his willingness to “push his limits”. 

Journey, due for release later this year, was recorded on June 7th 2012 in LA’s Firehouse Recording Studios, with Peter Erskine, who’s played with everyone from Jan Garbarek, to Jaco Pastorius to Kate Bush, on drums, Jimmy Johnson (Allan Holdsworth and James Taylor) on bass, Larry Goldings (Pat Metheny, Carla Bley, David Sanborn, et al) on keyboards, and Grammy Award winner Bob Mintzer of the Yellowjackets on sax.

Later, there will a yet-to-be titled (I think) album on MoonJune, which was recorded last month in Hollywood with Jimmy Johnson and Vinnie Colaiuta (Frank Zappa, Joni Mitchell, Sting) on drums.

With such stellar backing, the future looks even brighter for Dewa and, indeed, the future of Indonesia’s vibrant jazz scene.
Trisum: three classy guitarists in concert: Dewi Budjana (left), Balawan (centre) and Tohpati (right)
- electric
- acoustic

Gigi with fellow Indonesian MoonJune artists, Tohpati (guitarist of simakDialog, Bertiga and Ethnomission) and Gusti Hendy (drummer of Ligro)

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