Rez Abbasi: Things to Come (2009)
It may be a new day in America but we're all still keenly interested in identity. This is a statement of sociopolitical reality, but it is also an observation of musical trend. In the liner notes for Things to Come, guitarist Rez Abbasi writes about recording music that "is neither jazz nor Indian; it has its own identity." In order to understand this statement, it is worth mentioning that Abbasi is an accomplished guitarist of Pakistani ancestry and his group made up of musicians of both South Asian descent (saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa and pianist Vijay Iyer) and American jazz musicians (bassist Johannes Weidenmueller and drummer Dan Weiss). However, there is little in their latest recording to suggest they were influenced by anyone other than the canonical jazz greats, which is a shame.
According to Abbasi, the title track was written on President Barack Obama's inauguration day, "an exciting day indeed!" The song seems less excited than hopeful, less patriotic than proud and empathetic, less played and more sung. Kiran Ahluwalia's voice embodies the hope the song means to convey.
The music is good but not great and the compositions show a lack of newness that could be forgiven had Abbasi and his band not already teased listeners with tracks like "Within Sanity," which does demonstrate a willingness to color outside the lines and be influenced by the world; there is a narrowness to the music that disappears when Abbasi becomes looser and allows Iyer and Ahluwalia to take the starring role and play.
Identity, real or perceived, is nothing to stay away from in a record and it might improve an already good album by an already accomplished musician.
Track Listing: Dream State; Air Traffic; Hard Colors; Things to Come; Why Me Why Them; Within Sanity; Realities of Chromaticism; Insulin.
Personnel: Rez Abbasi: guitars; Dan Weiss: drums; Johannes Weidenmueller: bass; Vijay Iyer: piano; Rudresh Mahanthappa: alto saxophone; Mike Block: cello (2, 7); Kiran Ahluwalia: Indian vocals (2-4, 6).