Rudresh Mahanthappa’s Indo-Pak Coalition – Agrima  – Mahanthappa 60:08 [10/17/17] ****:

Taking Indo-Asian jazz fusion to the next level.

(Rudresh Mahanthappa – alto saxophone; Rez Abbasi – guitar; Dan Weiss – drums, percussion)

“I wanted everyone to think about Agrima as if we were making a rock album.” That’s alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa describing the hour-long sophomore effort from his fusion trio, Rudresh Mahanthappa’s Indo-Pak Coalition. That’s not to imply listeners will mistake Agrima for a rock record. It means the band— Mahanthappa, electric guitarist Rez Abbasi and drummer/percussionist Dan Weiss—has stretched its compositional and improvisational reach, use a heavier-sounding approach and has evolved the Indo-Asian influences and jazz elements. Agrima was self-released as a limited-edition LP and a digital download. This review refers to the digital download version.

The Indo-Pak Coalition premiered in 2005 when they performed at a New York City pub, and issued their debut, Apti, in 2008. Mahanthappa is known for working with pianist Vijay Iyer, has recorded with fellow saxophonist Steve Lehman and Bunky Green, and recently became Director of Jazz Studies at Princeton University. Abbasi has about a dozen solo albums to his credit; his résumé includes Billy Hart, Dave Liebman, Gary Versace and Tony Malaby. Weiss has extensively studied tabla and classical Indian music; as a sideman he has done studio time with Lee Konitz, Tim Berne, Miguel Zenon and many more; and has albums under his own name with his large ensembles. The differences between Agrima and Apti are apparent. Mahanthappa incorporates software-driven effects on some tunes to transform the tone and timbre of his alto sax. On Apti Weiss only utilized tablas, but here he adds a unique tabla/drum kit. Abbasi’s guitar is edgier, more aggressive and he integrates pedal effects. The result supplies Mahanthappa’s eight originals with a compelling strength.

Abbasi, Weiss and Mahanthappa open with a medley of “Alap” and “Snap.” The atmospheric and moody “Alap” introduces Mahanthappa’s electronics, Abbasi’s manipulation of electric effects and Weiss’ application of tablas and drums. The 9:15 “Snap” is a headier track with a fast tempo and a repeating motif which runs through most of the arrangement, broken up by some freer, improvised soloing. During “Snap” Weiss initially concentrates on tablas and later shifts to full drum kit, while Mahanthappa and Abbasi weave in and out of the theme, complement each other, and at other times spiral and modify the melody. The forceful title track contains more electronics, highlighted by a looping synthesizer pattern. The dynamism is upfront via a fissured beat accentuated by Weiss’ rhythmic groove. Abbasi and Mahanthappa push the energy to a high plateau where sax and guitar intertwine and generate a magnetic restlessness. A varying rhythmic base also suffuses through the seven-minute “Rasikapriya,” where slow moments are gradually supplanted by a lengthier, frenetic section. The outcome is a taut balance of musical zeal and fervidness, particularly in the piece’s final half.

Other cuts maintain a quieter demeanor. The moderately-paced “Showcase” has a rock-inclined riff from Abbasi, while Mahanthappa sinuously solos atop Abbasi’s elongated vamp. When Abbasi takes a solo spotlight, he turns to his pedals to offer electronic tidbits and extends his sonic palette, while Mahanthappa keeps the main riff going. The six-minute “Can-Did” features a relaxed, measured legato and a dramatically-tinted melodic line heightened by Weiss’ snare drum and tablas. The album’s opus is the 14-minute “Revati,” which begins with an ethereal and otherworldly mannerism, then develops and expands in drive and amplification, fusing acoustic and electronic components. There is a notable tabla solo near the end, before the three musicians coalesce to bring the theme to a close. Agrima may not be the kind of fusion jazz which some would normally spend time with. The conception and the blend of Indo-Asian music and jazz won’t be everyone’s musical taste. But if you’re a jazz fan who embraces music which has few boundaries, Mahanthappa, Weiss and Abbasi have created something you should hear.


—Doug Simpson