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With Snake Charmer, his fourth CD as a leader, guitarist Rez Abbasi overtly draws on his Indian subcontinent heritage. Beneath this conspicuous exterior is a rhythmically charged guitar-organ-drum trio. This was palpable within minutes at the group's CD release party at Joe's Pub, when Abbasi, along with organist Gary Versace, and drummer Danny Weiss, locked into the quick, sinewy movement of the title track. Their tight interplay is the foundation for the music and provides solid support for their guests.
On "Pearl," Dave Liebman's soprano sax acts as the conjurer, its taut, serpentine lines winding around the atmospheric movement of Abbasi's sitar-guitar and Kiran Ahluwalia's enchanting voice. In concert, she was a mesmerizing study in control and injected an appropriate spirituality to this composition dedicated to slain journalist Daniel Pearl. Ahluwalia paired with the burbling tabla of Naren Budhaker on "Motherland" to support Abbasi's patient solo and evoke the exotic.
The trio displays its acumen when it mines churning, up-tempo tunes with recurring unison rhythmic patterns, such as "Tantra" and "Blood Orange." In the former, Abbasi takes a cleanly phrased turn featuring fleet single-note runs, while Weiss modulates the beat with sparse, well-placed fills. Liebman punctuates the quiet dynamics and patient proceedings of "Rumi," matching lines with Abbasi for tonal contrast. A duet for Abbasi's acoustic guitar and Ahluwalia's traditional singing on "Thanks for Nothingness" offers a calming conclusion. Though Abbasi and his cohorts flirt with the edge, they reign themselves in to ensure that the improvisations never subvert the melody or groove. The result is a lively take on the marriage of Indo and western influences.
As a kid, my mom told me I'd like jazz. I thought she was nuts. Then I went to hear Cannonball Adderley (with Nat Adderley, George Duke, Walter Booker, Roy McCurdy and Airto) and everything changed. Yeah, mom knows best.