I have become attentive to everything released on MoonJune Records. First it was because of Leonardo Pavkovic’s relationship to Allan Holdsworth whom I so admire. Now, however, it is because of the incredible talent out of Indonesia that Pavkovic has revealed to western audiences.
The latest release from MoonJune Records is Joged Kahyangan by guitarist/composer Dewa Budjana. Budjana is the leader of the Indonesian pop-rock group Gigi who have released 20 albums since 1996 and who enjoy rock-star status in Indonesia, selling out stadiums--a secret too well kept from the West until now.
In 2002, Dewa Budjana came to the U.S. while Gigi was taking a break. He got in touch with famed drummer Peter Erskine and the two hit it off. Erskine brought aboard the late bassist Dave Carpenter and even a studio in Santa Monica, CA. The project became a trio and the album Samsara was released in 2003. A second trio recording, Home, would follow in 2005.
In early 2013, Budjana was brought into the MoonJune Records family and now his music is enjoyed outside of his native Indonesia. That first album with MoonJune Records was Dewa in Paradise.
The original trio has now expanded into a larger format and the astonishing result is the latest offering entitled, Joged Kahyangan. It was recorded in a single day with no rehearsals and required no more than 2-3 takes for each track.
Joged Kahyangan opens with “Foggy Cloud.” Does Peter Erskine just keep improving with age? Always supportive, often understated, Erskine is a master of what is fitting for the moment. Meanwhile, Dewa Budjana is both raw and fragile in his attack.
Larry Goldings piano work is a great pairing with Dewa’s guitar and Jimmy Johnson (who worked with Allan Holdsworth) has never disappointed on the bass. Throw in Bob Mintzer on sax and clarinet and we got the makings. The piece is immensely enjoyable.
“Joged Kahyangan” is the second track and who could be prepared for such a fascinating piece? Dewa is often compared to Pat Metheny but on this track it is Steve Howe that comes more readily to mind with that same finesse and delicacy. The sax and piano corroboration is incredibly intriguing. The dueling arpeggios are sweet.
Jimmy Johnson is fluid and unforced, Peter Erskine is straight-on genius and the whole piece becomes uplifting and delightful. Bob Mintzer is staggering.
“Dang Hyang Story” is inspired by the tale of Danghyang Niratha who brought Shaivite Hinduism to Bali. In the liner notes, he is said to be to Indonesian and Balinese Hinduism what Mohammed is to Islam.
This epic is told in Jazz on Joged Kahyangan, with Erskine lighting it up against Goldings enchanting piano. With a powerful and tempered rhythm section, Budjana is free to take off and each member takes the opportunity to do just that.
The one and only vocal track is “As You Leave My Nest” which features Janis Siegel who also composed the lyrics alongside Rabbi Harry Levin. Siegel adds her soulful self to the instrumental mastery of the band.
In “Majik Blue,” dedicated to Dewa’s Majik Blue Parker guitar, a three note motif from bass and sax introduces this overwhelming track. There is a lovely progression until 2:13 when the piece takes a hard turn into a complex interlude where everyone brings the heat. Larry Goldings show his adaptability in taking his turn on the Hammond and just thrills. In fact, everyone gets a solo except Peter Erskine who is already brightly and tightly represented throughout the whole composition. But then he gets his turn...
“Erskoman” is Peter Erskine’s nickname and the piece is dedicated to him. After all, it was Erskine who caused it all to gear up for Dewa’s excursion into Jazz. Erskine counts off the track and Dewa’s guitar is exquisite. Goldings' Hammond again is featured, then Dewa creates a guitar riff reminiscent of The Bubble Puppy’s “Hot Smoke and Sassafras.”
Erskine finally gets his free-rein solo and he brings everything with him. From his days with Stan Kenton, Weather Report, Jaco, John Abercombie, Al DiMeola and so many more, Erskine has established a finely developed vocabulary that is always appropriate to the piece. And this piece is right in his wheelhouse.
The hottest groove comes in the Funk-Jazz composition “Guru Mandala.” There are Asian rhythms that are powerful and inspiring. The chord changes are brilliant. The liner notes by John Kelman called the song “near-anthemic” and that assessment is spot-on. You find yourself vocalising the signature line.
“Borra’s Ballad” closes out the album. It is the instrumental version of “As You Leave My Nest.” Erskine employs the lightest of brush-strokes as Golding intones a gentle Gospel feel from the Hammond. Atop it all, Dewa Budjana’s guitar is refined and refreshing. It is elegant and emotive and is a fine conclusion to a brilliant album.
From start to finish, the album is arrayed with beautiful compositions and arrangements. Each musician is the perfect fit and Budjana shows himself equal to his company.
Leonardo Pavkovic has laid bare a goldmine of incredible music and musicians from Indonesia. While Dewa Budjana has enjoyed rock-star status in his homeland, Pavkovic and MoonJune Records have introduced him to the world as a Jazz Master. Ignore comparisons to Pat Metheny or anyone else. Dewa Budjana stands on his own.
To purchase Joged Kahyangan by Dewa Budjana, order from MoonJune Records here: https://moonjunerecords.bandcamp.com/album/joged-kahyangan/
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