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Rudresh Mahanthappa’s Indo-Pak Coalition & Rez Abbasi’s Invocation

Mark Sullivan By

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Two nearly simultaneous releases that shine an especially interesting light on the three players they have in common. In addition to leading the two dates, alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa and guitarist Rez Abbasi play prominent performance roles in both, and Dan Weiss provides drums (and tabla). Both projects mark the return of their respective bands: the second time for the Indo-Pak Coalition, the third for Invocation.

Rudresh Mahanthappa's Indo-Pak Coalition
Agrima
Self Produced
2017

It has been nine years since the Indo-Pak Coalition's first and only release Apti (inova, 2008). The group continued to tour long after the release (in addition to pursuing a variety of other projects individually), giving them a pool of fresh ideas to work with. The most immediately noticeable change is the bigger group sound made possible by Mahanthappa's use of live electronics, Abbasi's increased use of electronics, and Weiss' integration of tabla and drum set. The leader is responsible for all of the compositions, although clearly all of the players have a great deal of freedom. Mahanthappa's goal is to mix musical styles and create art that defies genre.

The opening "Alap" is just what it sounds like: a free introduction, like the ones in a classical Indian raga performance (although Weiss does play some tabla on it). "Snap" continues with that sound, but with a rhythmic Indian melody; after a quiet bridge the band comes back hard, with Weiss ending the tune on drums. When the band is in full flight, as on "Showcase," the sound is filled out by a guitar vamp with a bass line, electronic processing on the saxophone solo and the accompaniment played under the guitar solo, and full drum kit.

The title tune (which Mahanthappa explains means "next" or "that which follows" in Sanskrit) features an intricate Indian-sounding theme, and even has a brief recurring sequenced synthesizer pattern as part of the mix. It also displays Abbasi's chops to great effect. "Revati," the longest track at almost fifteen minutes, is a particular showcase for Weiss' hybrid percussion setup. The atmospheric opening theme (played by processed guitar) is accompanied by tabla and cymbals. Weiss then moves to the drums, returning to tabla before taking a tabla solo. "Take-Turns" is an exciting closer in which saxophone and guitar do indeed take turns, alternating soloing and accompanying.

IPK's sound is partly defined by the comping responsibility being equally divided between saxophone and guitar. It is rare to hear a single saxophonist take that role so consistently, but it accounts for much of the fullness of the trio sound: there is never a large textural contrast when either instrument stops soloing. Add that to the strong Indian music influence, and you have a very distinctive sound. That approach extends to the marketing of the album as well. Mahanthappa says "I wanted everyone to think about Agrima as if we were making a rock album," and he's releasing the album like a rock musician, too—on his own via both digital download (just $2) and vinyl.

Rez Abassi's Invocation
Unfiltered Universe
Whirlwind Recordings
2017

Each of the Invocation albums have taken their inspiration from Indian/Pakistani musical traditions: this one adds an element of Carnatic music (the classical system associated with southern India). It is a subtle influence; there are no Indian instruments in the group, and the Indian rhythmic and melodic structures employed are rarely overt. In this way both Abbasi's compositions and performance practice in this project are quite different from the Afro-Pak Coalition. It is also a much larger band. Abbasi's guitar, Mahanthappa's alto saxophone and Weiss' drums (no tabla) are joined by pianist Vijay Iyer, double bassist Johannes Weidenmueller, and cellist Elizabeth Mikhael.

The opener "Propensity" does have a slight Indian melodic twist in the theme, but after that it's bebop all the way. Mahanthappa gets the first solo, a fiery entry that leads into the leaders overdriven guitar solo; Iyer finally takes things into a more abstract direction with his piano solo. The title tune has an elaborate theme with the cello as a prominent voice. Abbasi takes the first solo, which eventually leads to a free section for saxophone, guitar and drums—the Indo-Pak Coalition in a very different setting. "Thoughts" is a brief feature for Abbasi's unaccompanied processed guitar.

"Thin-King" has a bebop-like round of solos, which also gives Weidenmueller a solo bass spotlight. "Turn of Events" oscillates between abstract and driving. Mikhael (ever a solid ensemble player) finally gets a brief cello solo, as well as some call-and-response with the bass. I'm not sure if the title of closer "Dance Number" is meant ironically. It's certainly rhythmic, but its jerky groove does not suggest dance.

As a progressive jazz band, Rez Abbasi's Invocation takes jazz music as its foundation, with Indian and Pakistani music only one influence among many. Rudresh Mahanthappa's writing for the Indo-Pak Coalition is more explicitly a fusion project, as its name implies. Taken together they demonstrate the wide diversity of composing and performing made possible by combining South Asian and jazz styles.

Tracks and Personnel

Agrima

Tracks: Alap; Snap; Showcase; Agrima; Can-Did; Rasikapriya; Revati; Take-Turns.

Personnel: Rudresh Mahanthappa: alto saxophone, electronics; Rez Abbasi: guitar, electronics; Dan Weiss: tabla, drums.

Unfiltered Universe

Tracks: Propensity; Unfiltered Universe; Thoughts; Thin-King; Turn Of Events; Disagree To Agree; Dance Number.

Personnel: Rez Abbasi: guitar; Vijay Iyer: piano; Rudresh Mahanthappa: alto saxophone; Johannes Weidenmueller: double bass; Dan Weiss: drums; Elizabeth Mikhael: cello.

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