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Rez Abbasi: A Throw Of Dice

Dan McClenaghan By

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Rez Abbasi has written a score for a 1929 movie—not an everyday jazz endeavor, but that is what the guitarist/composer does with his thirteenth recording. This after-the-fact soundtrack composing, though rare, is not unprecedented. In 2015 guitarist Aram Bajakian wrote and self produced a recording—an unofficial soundtrack—to the 1969 Soviet film The Color Of Pomegranates, an exploration of the life of the Armenian poet, Sayat-Nova.

Abbasi, for his inspiration, writes a score for the vintage black and white Indian-German film, A Throw Of Dice, parenthetically subtitled A Romance Of India.

Abbasi's recording, also entitled A Throw Of Dice, is very much a chamber jazz affair, with an Indian tinge. In terms of touchstones for Abbasi's approach—present and past—pianist Vijay Iyer and saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa could be mentioned, for their embrace of American jazz stirred up with the influences of Carnatic (Indian) music; Iyer and Mahanthappa, first generation Indian-American artists, joined the Pakistan-born Abbasi on the guitarist's excellent Unfiltered Universe (Whirlwind Recordings, 2017).

At some points in A Throw of Dice the late 50s/early 60s groups of drummer Chico Hamilton could be tagged in terms of a similarity of approach, due to the sound's chamber-like quality and, in part, to Abbasi's addition of the cello and flute to his quintet. Hamilton had Fred Katz and Buddy Collette on these instruments; Abbasi has Jennifer Vincent and Powan Benjamin sitting in the respective chairs.

Abbasi takes inspiration from ragas and Indian rhythms, as well as from jazz, western classical music and rock. His patiently laid out "surf music guitar" chording inside a rhythmically Indian groove on "Moving Forward" is particularly compelling, as is his work with the electric sitar-guitar throughout. Benjamin's jazzy sax slips in and out of the sound, and a plaintive cello cries out on "Changing Worlds."

There are nineteen fairly brief (a minute and a half to six minute) scenes put to music here, a modern/ancient feeling pervades, along with the sense of sterling craftsmanship in the writing and playing. This is fertile ground. India got on the movie-making train early. There must be thousands of films that could serve as soundtrack inspirations.

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.

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

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