‘Zentuary’ – Dewa Budjana (2CD)

zentuary

BALINESE electric guitarist Dewa Budjana seems to be a man on a mission. High-energy jazz-rock artistry pours from him like there’s no tomorrow! For latest double album Zentuary (follow-up to 2015’s Hasta Karma) he calls on a core, western powerhouse of bassist Tony Levin and drummer/keyboardists Gary Husband and Jack DeJohnette, as well as guests including saxophonists Tim Garland and Danny Markovich.

Major influences on Budjana’s career are iconic guitarists John McLaughlin, Allan Holdsworth and Pat Metheny; and such transmitted dynamism, coupled with heady, colourful infusions of Indonesian culture, provides the foundations for these one hundred minutes of intense, original composition and improvisation. With Bali some 8,000 miles from the UK, the guitarist’s often anthemic soundscapes traverse geographic borders – in music, what borders? – with ease, providing a window on exotic vocals, textures and rhythms. The scale of the project might initially feel pretty overwhelming, and perhaps Zentuary (the guitarist’s contrived word, melding ‘zen’ and ‘sanctuary’) could more easily be considered and digested as an entire, continuous movie soundtrack. In fact, Budjana thinks big, even taking the opportunity to incorporate sessions with the Czech Symphony Orchestra.

By turns, these twelve particularly expansive tracks are exhilarating and mysterious, Dancing Tears immediately chasing pace and bubbling to Tony Levin’s signature Chapman Stick bass. Budjana is undoubtedly a ‘guitar star’, his breathless, varying explorations of the fretboard shining out above thunderous rock drumming; and Solas PM‘s similar line is coloured by the rapidity of Danny Markovitch’s high-flying soprano. Lake Takengon adds flamboyant wordless vocals into the mix; the tropical atmospheres of Rerengat Langit (Crack in the Sky) combine the evocative tones of Indonesian flute with spoken phrases and delicious fuzz guitar; and the steady progression of Suniakala confirms the guitarist’s aptitude for orchestral, almost Pink Floydian grandeur.

Dear Yulman descends into dark, shady thriller territory, though Budjana’s impressively liquefied chromatics rise above; Pancarabo‘s Methenyesque vocals alternate with a driving synth groove redolent of Jan Hammer (and even Husband’s time with Level 42); and the exuberant, chiming celebration of Manhattan Temple glints to Tim Garland’s unmistakable vibrato and Levin’s beautifully resonant NS bass. At this stage of CD2, there’s a sense of envelopment, of basking in the aromatic wonder – and Dedariku‘s breathy suling flute finds a path through dense undergrowth to ascend melodically with synth and guitar (this is certainly theme tune material). The eastern joy of Ujung Galuh – one of many vast tracks – is carried by Danny Markovitch’s soprano improv; Uncle Jack‘s quirkiness is characterised by catchy guitar motifs, glissando bass and all manner of piano and synth hues; and the peaceful, closing acoustic guitar and strings oasis of title track Zentuary also has a symphonic urgency which suggests there remains plenty more for Budjana to say… next time.

A big statement from a strong Indonesian jazz-rock force, Zentuary is available as CD or digital download from Bandcamp and Amazon, as well as at iTunes.

 

Dewa Budjana guitars, soundscapes
Tony Levin electric upright NS Design bass, Chapman Stick
Gary Husband drums, keyboards, acoustic piano
Jack DeJohnette drums, acoustic piano
with guests
Danny Markovich curved soprano sax
Tim Garland tenor sax
Guthrie Govan guitar
Saat Syah custom-made Indonesian suling flute
Ubiet vocals
Risa Saraswati vocals
Czech Symphony Orchestra conducted by Michaela Růžičková

dewabudjana.com

Favoured Nations (in association with MoonJune Music) – FN2880 (2016)

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‘Flying Machines’ – Flying Machines

FlyingMachines_digital assets

A NEAT SYNTHESIS of pioneering inspiration, elegant sleeve art and exhilarating original music ties together Flying Machines’ eponymous debut album – a jazz-rock experience founded on imaginative, soaring electric guitar expression and energized, synth-sizzling grooves. 

With crew of piano/keyboardist Matt Robinson, bassist Conor Chaplin and drummer Dave Hamblett, guitarist/composer Alex Munk’s inspirited artistic approach is fired by the legacy and memory of his father, Roger Munk, whose tireless, award-winning vision for the advancement of British airship technology resulted in this year’s maiden voyage of the world’s longest aircraft – hybrid vehicle Airlander 10.

Indeed, there is undoubtedly a sense of gliding freedom and adventure as these nine, aeronautically-themed tracks take to the skies, as if the guitarist’s overarching brief to the band is to ascend towards spatial euphoria. So although opening number Tracks ripples to incisively picked guitar, deftly chromatic piano and tricksy, propulsive rhythms, it then levels out into an above-cloud state of tranquillity, with Munk’s clean, sustained melodies basking in endless sunlight; and the busyness of Bliss Out also has wide-openness at its heart, Robinson’s anthemic piano octaves floating over Hamblett’s snare drum propulsion, giving rise to gutsy guitar improvisation.

Munk’s citation of Pat Metheny and Mike Walker as influences can be heard in dreamy As Long As It Lasts. Rapid, anticipatory synth patterns in Emotional Math Metal bubble underneath crashing rock chords and breathless, extended, bass-driven riffs (yet there are always moments of serenity for taking in the view); and the guitarist’s solo piece, First Breath, possesses a Tracy Chapman song-like simplicity which almost implies a lyrical vocal line, as well as a redolence of Steve Howe or Steve Hackett prog interlude.

This quartet coalesces superbly across these differently-hued episodes, the buoyant electric bass and Rhodes funk of Lighter Than Air perhaps suggesting Snarky Puppy or, again, Metheny; and Peace Offering‘s initial weightlessness hits some splendidly turbulent dynamic and rhythmic fluctuations, all so exactingly co-ordinated. Stratosphere‘s crunchy, pop/rock solidity treads somewhere between Blue Oyster Cult and Genesis; and post-flight A Long Walk Home (with Chaplin’s switch to double bass and Robinson’s acciaccatura piano inflections emphasising this more rustic, acoustic amble) views the afterglow with an exquisite, thankful reverence.

Technically and emotionally thrilling, Flying Machines’ own inaugural flight is ‘up there’ with the best. Released on 14 October 2016, it’s available as CD or digital download from Bandcamp.

 

Alex Munk guitars, compositions
Matt Robinson piano, synths, Fender Rhodes
Conor Chaplin electric bass, double bass
Dave Hamblett drums

flyingmachinesband.com

Sleeve art by Oli Bentley at split.co.uk

Pictor Records – 001 (2016)

‘Proof of Light’ – Mark Wingfield

Proof

IMAGINE the late ’70s progressive jazz/rock boom of Jeff Beck, John McLaughlin and AllanHoldsworth, and you might be somewhere on the right track to the music of Anglo-American electric guitarist Mark Wingfield. Yet here is a musician who has honed his own, specific approach to the instrument and, consequently, his original, heavy-duty compositions.

Recording for the first time with New York-based label MoonJune Records, Wingfield has partnered with two stalwarts of the current jazz/rock scene – bassist Yaron Stavi (David Gilmour, Phil Manzanera, Robert Wyatt) and drummer/percussionist Asaf Sirkis (Gilad Atzmon, Jeff Berlin, Tim Garland) – to forge an otherworldly vista of shifting, synthy textures and intense rock-outs. Mark Wingfield’s mercurial guitar technique, frequently at the highest extremity of the fretboard and coaxing extended pitch-bent effects from the tremolo arm, is what defines his signature sound, along with staggering rapidity of improvisation.

Foreboding opener Mars Saffron is instantly redolent of the brilliance of, say, Gary Moore, Jan Hammer or Simon Phillips, as Wingfield’s searing melodies soar over hard-driving electric bass and drums, only pausing briefly amidst synthesised washes. Shadowy Restless Mountains, jangling to metallicised strings, finds Sirkis revelling in its space… at his flamboyant, fire-cracking best; and The Way to Etretat becomes delightfully acoustic as Stavi’s upright bass extemporisations dance around Italian-suggested ambiences, with Wingfield’s later guitar re-entry elevating the whole atmosphere to cinematic soundtrack status (again, Sirkis is irresistibly explosive at the kit).

A mellower, Metheneyesque synth quality to Wingfield’s guitar is found in A Conversation We Had and A Thousand Faces, both offering Wingfield the freedom to elaborate with haunting lyricism. And energized, full-throttle Voltaic resounds to quickfire, rhythmic riffs and gritty, percussive, droned abstractness – echoing Keith Emerson’s roughhouse ELP extravagances, it’s quite a ride!

Summer Night’s Story is an engaging episode of fluctuating colours, Sirkis’ refracting cymbal show especially catching the ear. Koromo’s Tale seems to occupy a cathedral-like vastness, with oriental overtones, as Yaron Stavi’s double bass improvisations set up Wingfield’s own explorations; and title track Proof of Light closes the 54-minute sequence with Sirkis and Stavi supporting Mark Wingfield’s virtuosic, high-wire display before blazing white-hot at its conclusion.

A cursory listen to this album might call for greater variation or augmentation of the trio’s elemental sound – but once immersed in the detail, Proof of Light becomes an intoxicating journey of drama and outstanding technicality.

Further details and audio samples at MoonJune Records.

 

Mark Wingfield electric guitar
Yaron Stavi acoustic and electric bass
Asaf Sirkis drums

markwingfield.com

MoonJune Records (MJR071) – 2015