Rez Abbasi: Bazaar (2006)
If ever there were an argument for the evolving chemistry of a regularly working group, Bazaar is it. Following the breakthrough Snake Charmer (Earth Sounds, 2005), guitarist Rez Abbasi's core group of organist Gary Versace, drummer Danny Weiss and Indian singer Kiran Ahluwalia has placed more than a few miles under its collective belt, including a March, 2005 club date in Ottawa, Canada and a followup performance at this year's Ottawa International Jazz Festival. Bazaar takes the innovations of Snake Charmer to the next level, with a degree of group interplay that's as exciting on record as it is in performance.
Abbasi's approach, which incorporates his Indo-Pakistani musical background with Western jazz harmonies, is an innovative one, since the Indian musical tradition is linear by nature. By incorporating denser and often darker harmonic movements, he creates a fusion that's unlike that of any other artist pursuing a similar nexus. As a guitarist, his roots are refreshingly distanced from the usual Metheny/Scofield/Frisell trifecta of influence. If anything, there are hints of John Abercrombie's economy and Ralph Towner's abstruse lyricism in his playing. Still, at best, they inform but never define Abbasi's uniquely virtuosic approach, which often peppers carefully constructed melodies with cascading flurries of notes to great effect.
While the often pattern-based material on Bazaar represents the next logical step, this time around Abbasi generally eschews irregular meters. Still, the way in which he builds his rhythmic foundationsand Weiss' uncanny ability to displace those rhythmsmake the sitar-guitar driven title track and arpeggio-based "Life Goes feel paradoxically odd-metered yet wholly natural. When he does use shifting rhythms on the darkly Oregon-esque "Thin Elephant featuring Abbasi on acoustic guitar, Weiss moving from tabla to kit and Ahluwalia delivering controlled yet emotive vocalsthe effect is so subtle as to be nearly imperceptible.
There are some guests, most notably saxophonists Rudresh Mahanthappa and Marc Mommaas, who broaden the palette on the title track and more aggressive "Mid-Life, where Abbasi's overdriven tone is pitted against Mahanthappa's freewheeling alto. But the core of Bazaar is a guitar/organ/percussion trio that's so simpatico as to transcend serendipity into telepathic synchronicity.
Versace showed he was capable of a soul-jazz approach when he went on tour with guitarist John Scofield, but left to his own devices, he's a more abstract thinker, more Dan Wall than Joey DeFrancesco. Weiss, whose Tintal Drum set Solo (Chhandayan Production, 2005) demonstrated the depth of his appreciation for the Indian musical tradition, locks in with Versace throughout, trading off with himself on "Hindu-Myth, where the call is the konnakol tradition of rhythm scatting and the response his kit.
While Abbasi's writing is geared towards improvisation, there's been considerable growth in the compositions as well. The longer pieces feel more episodic in nature, less about dramatic shifts and more about a gradually unfolding sense of the inevitable. He's no new kid on the block, having been around now for a couple of decades. But if Snake Charmer was the first major salvo, Bazaar is unequivocal confirmation of Abbasi's now crystal-clear direction and unerring sense of purpose.
Track Listing: Bazaar; Leather; Thin Elephant; Life Goes, You People Intro; You People; Mid-life; Hindu Myth; Destiny Owes You.
Personnel: Rez Abbasi: guitar, sitar-guitar, percussion; Gary Versace: Hammond organ; Danny Weiss: drums, tabla, rhythm scat (8); Kiran Ahluwalia: Indian vocals (2,3,7); Rudresh Mahanthappa: alto saxophone (1,7); Marc Mommaas: tenor and soprano saxophone (1,7); Gautam Siriam: mridnagam (2,5,6); Naren Budhakar: whistling (1).