Budjana Offers Spellbinding, Guitar-Centric Artistry


Guitarist Dewa Budjana’s latest album is titled Zentuary.

(Photo: Dion Mormongon)

Indonesian guitarist Dewa Budjana can be viewed as a composite of Pat Metheny, John McLaughlin and Allan Holdsworth. The 10 leader albums in his discography showcase his mighty jazz chops as well as his impressive arranging skills. His aesthetic reflects a unique blend of East and West, an organic Balinese style mixed with nods to Weather Report, Return To Forever and the Mahavishnu Orchestra.

Budjana’s latest, Zentuary (Favored Nations/MoonJune), is a two-disc set that highlights his collaborative prowess. Contributors on the album include drummer Jack DeJohnette, drummer/keyboardist Gary Husband and bassist/stick master Tony Levin, not to mention the Czech Symphony Orchestra.

Previous albums have featured other acclaimed artists, such as Antonio Sanchez, Peter Erskine, Vinnie Colaiuta, Bob Mintzer, Joe Locke, Jimmy Johnson and Larry Goldings.

In Indonesia, Budjana rose to fame in the wildly popular and prolific rock group Gigi, formed in 1994, but his solo works allow him to explore a completely different musical life.

At this year’s Java Jazz Festival in Jakarta, Budjana’s modest demeanor (both on and off stage) belied the fiery flavors of his charged, often romantic music. Along with his work on electric guitar, his band included electric bass, drums, twin keyboards, flute, harmonica and vocals. There was a compelling edge to the cohesive group sound as Budjana and his band told one musical story after another, the leader shredding with a visually striking, hand-painted guitar without a headstock.

“I started playing guitar when I was 11,” Budjana explained during a conversation outside Motion Blue, the club located in the Fairmont Jakarta Hotel. Later, he would join keyboardist Dwiki Dharmawan and his band onstage for some impromptu jamming. “I grew up in Bali, studied classical, was interested in pop music and started playing in bands in high school,” he recalled.

“I loved Ritchie Blackmore, but in the band Rainbow,” Budjana said, referring to the Deep Purple co-founder. “He influenced me a lot to play electric guitar. Later, I heard John McLaughlin and the Mahavishnu album Birds Of Fire, Gentle Giant, Yes, the Pat Metheny Group.”

Moving from Surabaya to Jakarta as an aspiring artist, Budjana sought out Indonesian jazz legend Jack Lesmana (1930–’88), who would become an important mentor. Budjana has collaborated with other important Indonesian musicians, such as keyboardist Indra Lesmana (who is Jack’s son), flautist Saat Syah and guitarist Tohpati (aka Tohpati Ario Hutomo).

Budjana has a tremendous passion for guitars and guitarists. Museum Gitarku (My Guitars) is the name he has given to his extensive collection, and he plans to open an actual museum devoted to them. “The guitars are hand-painted by well-known Balinese artists,” he explained. “I have about 200 guitars, and I made a book with a story of each painter and the guitar. I started in 2009.”

In addition, he collects guitars signed by favorite guitarists. “The first one to sign was Allan Holdsworth,” he said proudly. “Then Robby Krieger [of The Doors]. So far, I have 40 guitars with autographs from many others, including Peter Frampton, Mike Stern, Dweezil Zappa, John Scofield, John McLaughlin and Carlos Santana. There are also bass players, including Tony Levin and Sting.”

When asked to describe his guitar style, Budjana began by answering in the negative. “I am not a jazz player, but I am not a rock player. I think I am a pop player,” he said with a chuckle. He didn’t feel comfortable describing his approach to music and guitar playing as being “progressive”; he has a pop disposition with progressive and jazz/fusion sensibilities. “But I like to have jazz musicians play on my records. And I love to compose in many genres.”

As for Budjana the composer, listening to some of his other recent albums (for example, Hasta Karma, Surya Namaskar and Joged Kahyangan, all on MoonJune) one gets the clear impression that he is a master storyteller. Budjana’s melodies, soundscapes and orchestrations are ambitious, rich in sonic imagery and cinematic in scope. He represents yet another true meeting of East and West.

For information on MoonJoon releases, visit its website. DB

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