Dewa Budjana: Zentuary
Favored Nations

If Dewa Budjana's Zentuary had a filmic counterpart, it would definitely be slotted into the action genre. Something like The Fast and the Furious would serve as an appropriate alternate title, given how much the Indonesian guitar maestro's fifth and arguably most ambitious solo album amounts to an extended study in perpetual motion. Issued on Steve Vai's Favored Nations label in multiple formats (digital, double-CD, triple-vinyl), the recording complements Budjana's virtuosic guitar work with playing by drummers Jack DeJohnette and Gary Husband (the latter also credited with keyboards), bassist Tony Levin (on electric upright and Chapman Stick), saxophonists Tim Garland and Danny Markovich, Indonesian suling flutist Saat Syah, Indonesian singers Risa Saraswati and Ubiet, and the Czech Symphony Orchestra.

With a thirty-year career behind him, Budjana's long been an established and admired figure in Indonesia, but he's less well-known in Western circles, even though four of his albums have appeared on MoonJune and he's collaborated with jazz-fusion luminaries such as Peter Erskine, Vinnie Colaiuta, and Jimmy Haslip. But there's an encompassing reach to the 100-minute Zentuary that suggests he's hoping to break through in a major way internationally with this one, and to that end the amount of detail, dimensionality, and activity Budjana and company pack into the twelve tracks, almost all of them played live, is staggering.

Consider the opening two tracks, each one a nine-minute travelogue, as representative of the recording's tone and style. “Dancing Tears” begins in World Music mode with Sufi-styled vocalizations before lunging into a dynamic jazz-rock episode with the leader's raw electric playing powered by Husband's endlessly inventive drumwork and Levin's rock-solid support. After a roaring electric solo appears against the rhythm section's muscular backdrop, Budjana switches to acoustic for a second solo before the voices flood back in and the main themes re-emerge. As intricately woven is “Solas PM,” an infectiously swinging and joyful piece that sees solos by Markovich (on curved soprano sax) and Husband (on piano) assuming prominent places alongside the leader.

Elsewhere, the dreamy “Suniakala,” with Budjana augmented by fellow guitarist Guthrie Govan and the orchestra's luscious string textures, slows the tempo to a less feverish swoon, DeJohnette's cymbals and Syah's flute amplify the entrancing World-folk character of “Dedariku,” and the breezy “Pancarona” takes flight for eight melodious if intricately episodic minutes. The latter's at-times Metheny-esque tone is even more pronounced on the high-spirited “Ujung Galuh,” while “Uncle Jack” shows DeJohnette's no slouch in the acoustic piano department.

Interestingly, Husband seems to be a better fit for Budjana's music than DeJohnette, simply because the former's busy, fusion-styled attack is more naturally suited to the guitarist's progressive rock style. His stellar performance on “Lake Takengon” notwithstanding, DeJohnette, compared to Husband, is less a flashy and pyrotechnical player whose sensibility is generally more attuned to jazz than fusion (his playing on “Manhattan Temple,” for example, is far more straightforward than what Husband would conceivably have contributed). Yet while the tracks on which the drummers appear do differ, having DeJohnette on board makes for a considerably richer recording in the long run. His playing broadens Zentuary's range and adds another dimension to it; furthermore, it nudges Budjana's music into a subtly jazzier realm compared to the one featuring Husband.

November 2016