Ancestral influences have long occupied second-generation Indian-American saxophonist/composer Rudresh Mahanthappa's thinking and have strongly influenced his music. That was especially true in the case of his 2008 Indo-Pak Coalition album Apti (Innova Recordings) and now with Agrima. But there is an obvious evolutionary leap in the near decade between releases; a measure of the progression is owed to technology and another to continuously developing instincts around the marriage of Western and non-western music.
Mahanthappa is the Director of Jazz at Princeton University, a winner of the Guggenheim Fellowship and Doris Duke Performing Artist Award and frequently sits atop best-of lists for alto saxophonists. He first came to prominence as an original member of Vijay Iyer's quartet on Panoptic Modes (Pi Recordings, 2010). Mahanthappa has led or co-led more than a dozen recordings and worked as a side man on a similar number of releases. The rest of the Apti trio remains intact. Drummer Dan Weiss toured with saxophonists David Binney and Lee Konitz early in his career and has a long association with Mahantthapa. He studied tabla with Pandit Samir Chatterjee for two decades making him a perfect fit for Mahantthapa's hybrid style. While he played only tabla on Apti, his drum set is expanded on Agrima. Electric guitarist Rez Abbasi is a native of Pakistan but was raised in Los Angeles from an early age. Like Mahanthappa, he looks to the music of South Asia as a significant piece of a unique jazz diaspora. In a similar manner, Abbasi attempts to blur the line between improvisation and composition.
The two opening pieces, "Alap" and "Snap" are seamlessly linked and both are solidly informed by South Asian influences. The latter of the two compositions maintains that motif through much of its nine minutes before finally breaking out in some free playing. "Showcase" is a moderately paced and serpentine with a blues undercurrent that expands into improvised jazz elements as it progresses. The title track is stylistically the most interesting piece as it not only incorporates regional aspects with jazz, rock and electronics, but also has distinctly Celtic sounding passages. The free playing on "Rasikapriya" coexists with a more structured sense of movement, and the ethereal mysticism of "Revati" add to the broad pallet that Mahanthappa composes from.
With Agrima Mahanthappa continues to challenge himself and the listener with the difficult task of bringing the single-note and drone elements of Indian music together with jazz. Abbasi's penchant for blistering rock guitar interludes adds an almost incalculable test to the composing process. The complex methodology works, even more so than on Apti, due to the expanded reach of the better equipped Weiss. His ability move the process along and shift the environment without seismic repercussions, is just one of the wonders of Agrima.
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