Dewa Budjana: Surya Namaskar
Highly recommended for aficionados of jazz-fusion, Surya Namaskar (Salute to Sun) burns with all of the fusion fire one would expect from a trio date featuring Indonesia-born guitarist Dewa Budjana accompanied by fretless bassist Limmy Johnson and drummer Vinnie Colaiuta. Now fifty-five, Budjana's established himself as a player of some repute by releasing solo albums (Surya Namaskar is his seventh) in addition to playing in the Indonesian pop-rock band Gigi (founded in 1994, the group has issued twenty-two albums to date). That his influences include renowned axe-wielders such as John McLaughlin, Jeff Beck, Pat Metheny, and Allan Holdsworth (the latter Dewa's self-proclaimed hero) should offer some hint as to what one might expect from the fifty-six-minute collection.
The opener “Fifty” parts company with the album's other tracks in featuring keyboards, specifically piano and synthesizer playing by Gary Husband. Compositionally, the tune begins in a foreboding mode that recalls Birds of Fire-era Mahavishnu Orchestra (Husband, interestingly, is a veteran sideman of John McLaughlin's) before the clouds part and a brighter Metheny-esque episode appears with Dewa and Husband doubling up on a prototypical fusion-styled head. Even at this early stage, the album's style starts to come into focus, with the guitarist playing with an impressive degree of confidence and swagger and Colaiuta using his formidable chops to fill the available space with percussive colour. Johnson also shows himself to be an especially tasteful player who picks his moments carefully and makes the most of the solo spots he's granted.
Despite the presence of only three musicians, the music is dense, and rendered even more so when Dewa's multi-tracked playing creates the impression of a triple-guitar front-line. That Colaiuta's a monster on technical grounds is a fact borne out repeatedly, but while one can't help but be awed by his playing, there are moments when it can be overbearing. At such times, one longs for a more restrained approach that wouldn't see every moment teeming with detail. Having said that, there's also no denying the consistently high levels of energy and imagination he brings to the material; the man certainly doesn't lack for conviction.
“Kalingga” adds an Eastern-styled vibe to the album due in part to Dewa's (overdubbed) electric sitar and the contributions of vocalist Mang Ayi, Kang Pupung (on tarawangsa, a Sudanese violin) and Kang Iya (on kacapi, a Sudanese harp). But even though, on the one hand, the piece seems to indicate a pronounced move in the direction of Indonesia, Dewa's heavy attack is even more rock-oriented than it is elsewhere. While the album presents ample evidence of Dewa as a six-string virtuoso (acoustic and electric, by the way), lyrical settings such as “Capistrano Road” (a tribute to Holdsworth), “Campuhan Hill,” and “Surya Namaskar” argue convincingly on behalf of his gifts as a composer. Melodically speaking, it's well-nigh impossible to ignore a pronounced Metheny influence in Dewa's writing, most noticeably in “Campuhan Hill” and the title track. It's the latter that's the album's standout, incidentally, in no small part due to the bluesy contributions made by electric guitarist Michael Landau, even if the composition's soul-stirring uplift is the most affecting thing of all. Were one to witness The Pat Metheny Group performing such pieces, one would naturally hear them as having been authored by Metheny himself, and the mere fact that one could mistake a Dewa composition for one by his Missouri-born counterpart is obviously high praise indeed.