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Rez Abbasi: A Throw Of Dice

Friedrich Kunzmann By

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No matter what style of music Rez Abbasi tackles, he always makes it sound exciting, fresh and uniquely his own. The American guitarist and composer is known for his individual spin on jazz, which is as deeply rooted in western jazz doctrine as it is in traditions of his Pakistani heritage. Be it in the context of Indo-American fusion group Invocation—the outfit in which he plays alongside fellow like-minded contemporaries Rudresh Mahanthappa and Vijay Iyer—or in the wake of his electric fusion project Junction, whose 2016 outing Behind the Vibration (Cuneiform Records) gave jazz-rock a whole new face, Abbasi continues to skillfully combine different musical approaches to form his very own design, no matter what the instrumentation. His work on the recent output of Kiran Ahluwalia—his wife and equally skilled singer/composer—demonstrates that he is able to take his ego out of the equation and put his stamp on the production in an understated way.

In an already unusual and diverse catalogue of projects, A Throw Of Dice stands out as even more exceptional. Unlike his past albums, the music here is inspired by images on screen. The album is also—or to be more accurate, primarily—the name of a silent film made by the German director Franz Osten in 1929. For the commission to score the movie, Abbasi assembled a unique acoustic lineup named The Silent Ensemble. In harmony with its name, the group interacts with much acoustic nuance and delivers a suite-like stream of compositions with a chamber-music quality comprised of prudence and conviction.

Melody and rhythm both play important roles throughout the hour-spanning soundtrack. Opening segment "Mystery Rising" works like a classical overture by putting all of the different approaches to show: solo guitar sections are superseded by driven drum patterns that slowly scale back to light percussion accompanying strings and flutes. In contrast to the prevailing acoustic setting, during the course of the album Abbasi occasionally draws on the electric guitar for further diversity in color, as presented on the ballad-turned-march "Blissful Moments." Some of the most profound music can be discovered in the more openly constructed pieces: "Seven Days Until News" is based around sparse acoustic guitar strokes that are guided by a steadily pulsating string section and minimal cymbal hits on drums, making for one of the most lyrical moments of the record. The successor "Duplicity" aptly continues the train of thought.

A constant motion of colors and emotions, carried to the forefront by the music, provokes curiosity as to what particular images or scenes might have influenced certain themes or sequences of dense interplay. Nevertheless, when taken as a whole the music makes sense and can stand on its own. Between shorter and transitional cuts, entire tunes, as for example "Wedding Preparation," fill in the blank spaces to create a complete picture. And like in a film, the musical pictures here aren't static but seamlessly hand ideas and impulses down a chain of snapshots and become a narrating entity in motion.

Track Listing

Mystery Rising; Hopeful Impressions; Love Prevails; Facing Truth; Amulet and Dagger; Blissful Moments; Seven Days Until News; Duplicity; Jugglers; Snake Bite; Moving Forward; Wedding Preparation; Morning Of The Wedding; Gambling Debt; Boy Changes Fate; Falsehood; Changing Worlds; Chase For Liberation.

Personnel

Rez Abbasi: guitars, electric sitar-guitar; Pawan Benjamin: saxophones, western flute, bansuri; Jennifer Vincent: cell, bass; Rohan Khrisnamurthy: mridangam, ghatam, khanjira; Jake Goldblas: drum set.

Album information

Title: A Throw Of Dice | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: Whirlwind Recordings

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