Dewa Budjana: Hasta Karma
Dewa Budjana openly admits to being a Pat Metheny fan, and Budjana's compositions share with his celebrated counterpart a talent for producing richly melodic music that's both accessible and sophisticated. That Metheny connection asserts itself overtly on Hasta Karma in featuring upright bassist Ben Williams and drummer Antonio Sanchez, the rhythm section in Pat Metheny's Unity Group; rounding out the players on Budjana's album is vibraphonist Joe Locke, while Indonesian keyboardist Indra Lesmana appears on three of the six tracks. But though Hasta Karma does evidence certain Metheny ties, it can't help but sound like a Budjana project when its compositions thread elements of his Indonesian background into its contemporary jazz context.
That the listener is in for something special is evident from the first moments of “Saniscara” when Sanchez enriches Budjana's swinging piece with flurries of percussive colour. It's also clear from the outset that, even though all of the compositions are credited to the guitarist, Sanchez, Williams, and Locke are just as responsible for the powerful impression the music makes as Budjana himself; it's perhaps telling in that regard that in the opening piece, Locke and Williams take solo turns before the guitarist.
The insistently loping rhythms and intricate melodic lines of “Jayaprana” lend it a noticeably Metheny-esque character, but the moment Budjana's solo arrives, whatever association the tune has with Metheny moves to the background. As melodically accessible is the joyous “Just Kidung,” a loping jazz-funk workout that sees Sanchez working a hint of reggae into its opening moments and Lesmana adding a rousing piano solo to its back end. Budjana's sweeter side comes to the fore during “Desember,” though admittedly the serenading tone of its opening minutes turns heavier as the piece progresses, and “Payogan Rain,” a ballad-styled closer memorably marked by the guitarist's acoustic enhancements and melodica sweetening by Lesmana.
On “Ruang Dialisis,” a composition that first appeared on the guitarist's 1997 debut Nusa Damai, Budjana layers overtop of the band's heartfelt rendering a sampled recording of his grandmother chanting Mamuit, a traditional funeral song, to his father at his funeral. Yet while the gesture is well-intentioned, it's less successful musically as it muddies the overall sound, and the performance is more effective when it presents the playing of the quartet alone. But that's about as much of a misstep as happens on this otherwise strong outing.
Throughout Hasta Karma, Budjana plays with a dexterity and fluidity that's reminiscent of Allan Holdsworth, while the others' virtuosic abilities serve the music, not the ego. Sanchez is a constant marvel, Locke's bright timbres provide a pleasing counterpart to Budjana's six-string textures, and Williams' upright adds a warm and natural dimension to the playing. One of the most remarkable things about the fifty-three-minute set, especially when one takes into consideration the high level of musicianship on display, is that it was recorded in a single day. Though Budjana shared charts with the other musicians prior to the session and clarified with them in the studio where exactly solos would fall, the actual recording commenced on January 22nd, 2014 at 1 in the afternoon and ended at 7:30. It's a remarkable testament to all involved that the material sounds more like the product of a band that's laid down the tracks after road-testing them on tour as opposed to a group of musicians convening at Kaleidsocope Sounds Studio in Union City, New Jersey for a single session.