Sunday, November 12, 2017

DL/LP Review: Rudresh Mahanthappa's Indo-Pak Coalition - Agrima

Rudresh Mahanthappa's Indo-Pak Coalition

Speed isn't everything. Many people can play spray a bushelful of notes at listeners and not say anything. When a musician can combine speed with intriguing melodic lines, and tweak those ideas as they're taking shape, that's the sign of a gifted player. Rudresh Mahanthappa's performance has been developing to such a degree that he is now arguably one of the most creative alto saxophonists to ever blow that horn. (Yes, up there with the big guys.) The way he manipulates pitch and executes with an often acidic tone definitely makes him the most unique alto player to come along in quite awhile. He often emits a rapid-fire arsenal of notes, which serve to expand his ideas, never stopping to grandstand. This has been going on for a while in his music, and the approach is on full display in his Indo-Pak Coalition, a trio with guitarist Rez Abbasi and tabla player/trap drummer Dan Weiss.

The trio's debut, Apti (2008), combined jazz improvisation with ideas from traditional Indian music, stripping it down to bare essentials. Weiss played tabla exclusively, Abbasi worked double-duty as soloist and keeper of the groundwork, and Mahanthappa surged forward. For Agrima ("next" or "following" in Sanskrit), Weiss incorporates the drum kit into the music with his tabla. The approach offers surprises throughout the album. Sometimes they come in simple ways, as cymbal crashes punctuating his tabla parts. In "Snap" he begins on tabla and cymbals, only to reemerge on drums following Abbasi's solo. "Showcase," which begins sounding like a blues riff, recreates the approach Weiss used in live performances, having the tabla and drums together.

Mahanthappa wanted the trio to imagine they were making a rock album as they recorded Agrima, homing in on group interaction as opposed to thinking about combining Indian music with western music. The suggestion worked because they play with a visceral passion. Both Abbasi and Mahanthappa get a little maniacal with their complexity in "Rasikapriya." The saxophonist's double-timing lines in "Revati" are jaw-dropping, though never short of serious substance.

Electronics have shown up in the saxophonist's work since 2011's Samdhi, and they creep up here as well. "Take-Turns" includes effects that echo the alto saxophone note for note, turning it into a buzzing replication of Mahanthappa. "Agrima" begins with a Philip Glass-style loop, which gets swallowed by Abbasi's heavy power chords. This piece veers perhaps a little too close to progressive rock, introducing a flowing theme and then restating it at half-time as a slow funk romp. But the force of the band's performance keeps it from stagnating. It presents one of several moments where they sound bigger than a trio. Here especially, Abbasi's guitar effects always give his attack extra edge and color.

Agrima is available exclusively as both a download (for just $2.50!) and limited edition double LP. The latter comes in a beautiful, full color package with a gatefold sleeve and liner notes by the saxophonist. Downloads are fine, but anyone who has a turntable should take the plunge for the vinyl. A download card comes with it and besides, it gives Mahanthappa some positive reinforcement for a strong effort and for self-releasing an actual record.

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