A native of India who migrated to Los Angeles and later New York, Rez Abbasi marries elements from both sides of the world on Snake Charmer, the guitarist's fourth album as a bandleader. He's accompanied by a small ensemble: Gary Versace on organ, Danny Weiss on drums and tabla, Dave Liebman on soprano saxophone, and Kiran Ahluwalia on Indian vocals and tanpura. They deliver an altogether different sound to the jazz scene.
The title song begins this nearly hour-long venture into the Indian-American soundscape. The aptly named "Snake Charmer invokes an image of a man sitting on the ground with legs folded underneath him, playing a flute while a cobra rises out of a basket. Abbasi, while playing in his own style, delivers a sound comparable to that of Pat Metheny. Versace's solo is oddly reminiscent of organists with 1970s rock bands such as Yes and Styx.
Liebman joins the ensemble on the dreamy, haunting "Pearl. While new, this song is a throwback to the freeform jazz personified by Miles Davis and others. It's the kind of music that tells a storya soundtrack to some life experience. In this case, it's a tribute to Daniel Pearl, the American journalist who was slain in Iraq. Liebman later appears on "Rumi, which is dedicated to a mystic poet from the 13th century.
"Tantra is a more rhythmic piece, but it still follows that freeform style. While Abassi goes through his paces, drummer Weiss gets into the groove, complementing the bandleader without dominating. Versace comes through with another thrilling solo. Later in the track, Abbasi and Weiss deliver a stunning percussion/drums duet before the leader returns to his guitar lead.
The rest of the album offers more of the same. All but one of the eight tracks are over six minutes in length, giving the musicians plenty of room to improvise. Each player gets time in the spotlight, all while maintaining a group sense. Abassi may be the leader, but his supporting cast is very much involved. Snake Charmer is not for those who prefer their jazz familiar and safe. However, if you like a little adventure and deviation from the beaten path, there's plenty here to enjoy.