Label/Year: Whirlwind Recordings, 2017
Lineup – Rez Abbasi: guitar; Rudresh Mahanthappa: alto saxophone; Vijay Iyer: piano; Johannes Weidenmueller: bass; Dan Weiss: drums + guest Elizabeth Mikhael: cello.
Since a young age, Pakistan-born American guitarist Rez Abbasi realized that the six strings of his guitar were a fantastic way to express himself. Throughout the years, he has been proving a deep understanding of the instrument and a prodigious facility in painting his modern style with multi-colored Eastern elements and a superb technique.
Unfiltered Universe, the last installment of his Indo-Pakistani-influenced jazz trilogy, entraps us in complex sonic webs, embracing improvisation over well-defined structured forms with unlimited freedom.
For the third time, Abbasi summoned the multi-cultural, stellar aggregation baptized as Invocation whose members include saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, pianist Vijay Iyer, bassist Johannes Weidenmueller, and drummer Dan Weiss. Together, they formulate piquant Carnatic South Asian seasonings to enhance the flavors of today’s contemporary jazz dishes.
The quintet takes the plunge with “Propensity”, a changeable piece marked by exotic melodic lines and a free-funk feel that derives from the bass groove. Mahanthappa flings a scalding improvisation using the raw instinct and the unmistakable timbre that has always highlighted his playing. Abbasi follows him, discoursing with pertinacity over the edgy accompaniment fomented by Iyer.
The title track acquires an eminent chamber tone in its first minutes due to the incisive cello slashes inflicted by guest Elizabeth Mikhael. The mood changes for the improvisations as the bandleader sketches geometric figures by whether employing sharp angles or rounding off the edges with reliable melodic sense. The pianist, on the other hand, constructs slowly but virtuously.
Functioning as an interlude, “Thoughts” is a less-than-2-minute free-form solo ride wrapped in synth-like effect.
Every tune carries Eastern folk accents in the melody, to a certain extent, but both “Disagree to Agree” and “Thin-King” are particularly driven by a rock-tinged energy that strengthens their muscular cores. The latter, whimsically shifting in tempo, displays Iyer, Abbasi, and Mahanthappa soloing interspersedly. After a short collective romp, it's Weidenmueller’s elegant bass dissertation that concludes the improvisational section.
“Turn of Events” precipitates a wider sense of mystery and awe attached to the strange, dreamy textures. Once again, Mikhael contributes substantially to the atmosphere, while Abbasi and Mahanthappa ignite the fire by exchanging improvised, transonic wallops. The turns of events don’t end here.
The album closes with the gracefully groovy “Dance Number”, where guitarist and saxophonist throw in plenty of phenomenal hooks. On top of that, Iyer’s wry harmonic twists and punchy phrasing are there to gain sonic preponderance near the end.
Innovation and positivism are vital factors that Rez Abbasi doesn’t renounce. Unfiltered Universe exposes a world fusion extravagance, which even tumultuous at times, is no less than emphatically magical.
01 – Propensity ► 04 – Thin-King ► 05 – Turn of Events