This is the text of the only English-language review (to our knowledge) of the gig in Ubud on Sunday 18th October. It was published in the paper edition of the Jakarta Post today here.
Mark Heyward (Contributor/Ubud)
A concert in Ubud, Bali, brought together two leading jazz-fusion guitarists, Dewa Budjana from Indonesia and John McLaughlin from the UK.
The title of the concert – Duaji and Guruji — was apt. In guitarist Dewa Bujana’s words, “Duaji is what people call me in Balinese and means someone who’s become a father to their children, while Guruji means a guru, a teacher, a role model.”
Dewa, aged 52, is well-known for his career with rock group Gigi and in Indra Lesmana’s ethno-jazz group Java Jazz, and for his solo jazz albums.
John McLaughlin, now 73, began his career in 1962 playing blues and jazz-beat. He was also a session player for the Rolling Stones, among other bands. In 1969 he moved to the USA, where he played with Tony Williams’s Lifetime and with Miles Davis on the seminal jazz-rock albums In A Silent Way and Bitches Brew.
McLaughlin became the Master, Guruji, with the release in 1971 of the first Mahavishnu Orchestra album, The Inner Mounting Flame, which has influenced scores of musicians since.
Forty years later, and Dewa Budjana has that same power to move audiences with spiritually-infused jazz-fusion.
Dewa’s many albums reflect his Balinese Hindu heritage. Hinduism is another connection with McLaughlin, who was given the name Mahavishnu by his yoga teacher Sri Chinmoy.
Ubud’s Arma Museum provided the perfect venue for the Oct. 18th concert. Adjacent to the Balinese art gallery is an open field bordered with tall trees and a stage with a Balinese temple backdrop. For this occasion, a huge translucent, multi-layered screen was installed.
The sounds and scents of Bali filtered through: a distant cacophony of barking kampung dogs, a chorus of cicadas high in the trees, clatter and chatter from the bar at the rear, a whiff of kretek cigarettes, sandalwood incense and frangipane. Above, the night sky threatened rain and somewhere among the clouds a waxing crescent moon drifted.
Following an excellent warm-up by the Bali Guitar Club on a small side stage, the lights in the main arena dimmed and a glittering night sky was projected onto the backdrop. Dewa Budjana strolled onto the stage wearing a Balinese udeng (head cloth), picked up his guitar, and the music began.
From the outset, the mood was relaxed: Dewa was playing to a home crowd. The band slipped comfortably into the groove: Martin Siahaan, a keyboard player from Sumatra; Shadu Rasjadi, a Jakarta-based six-string bass player; bamboo flautist Saat Syah, sporting a Kalimantan Dayak cap and jacket; and Balinese drummer, Yandi Andaputra, just nineteen.
“I used to play with his mum,” explained Dewa, referring to Yandi. “She was the singer in my high school band.”
The music was drawn from Dewa’s several jazz albums, each piece a statement in its own language, each exploring its own musical themes, but each blending into a whole – as if the evening were a story, a narrative, comprised of a series of chapters.
As the band played, the screen behind the performers came alive with shifting images, early films of Balinese village life, rippling images of batik, of Balinese carving in stone and timber, geometric patterns that flowed and flashed with the music, an image of the temple backdrop that created a childlike blurring of reality and fantasy. This was an immersive experience.
When the pattern for each piece was bedded down, room for soloing was found. Employing a range of instruments, traditional and experimental, and a range of techniques, at times turning the instrument on its end, Saat Syah’s flute solos were exceptional.
Dewa’s own solos were as extraordinary as they were understated. And the whole thing was underpinned by Yandi’s solid yet equally playful rhythm, occasionally breaking out into showy solos.
John McLaughlin’s band, The 4th Dimension, was a delight: Paris-based five-string bassist Étienne M’Bappé from Cameroon, drummer Ranjit Barot from Mumbai in India and pianist/second drummer Gary Husband from Leeds in the UK. “Near where I was born in Yorkshire,” McLaughlin said.
McLaughlin’s signature guitar style set the tone from the beginning of his set, a thick, heavy tone with rapid-fire bursts of melody. The guitarist strode about the stage in a no-nonsense kind of way, at times facing the rear, giving directions to the band, or riffing with the bassist or keyboard player and, at other times, leading from the front. Like Dewa’s set, the pieces were full of drama, full of energy, color, passion and surprise, a mix of old and new.
Across the generations and from opposite sides of the planet, this meeting was a natural fit, music was the common language. It was a lost and enchanted evening, a night for the heart not the head. Duaji and Guruji, the Father and his Master, played together under a Balinese sky: two stars, a light at the edge of the world.
— Terry Collins contributed to this article.