Rudresh Mahanthappa’s Indo-Pak Coalition – Agrima (2017)

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Through his Indo-Pak Coalition, acclaimed alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa has been one of the foremost pioneers smartly combining jazz with Subcontinent folk forms. Agrima (Sanskrit for “next”) takes things a step further by tossing a larger dollop of rock and touches of electronics into the mix. The trio — which also boasts Rez Abbasi at guitar and Dan Weiss playing a hybrid tabla/drums kit — made such an impression hat I’ve forgotten they’ve only issued one album Apti, and that was way back in 2008. On October 17, 2017 the follow-up finally arrives, and while the original mission of melding modern group-level stream-of-consciousness with contemporary raga remains intact, Agrima builds on that mission, too.

Rendering lofty ideas with only sax, guitar and percussion gives the Indo-Pak Coalition the freedom to achieve them, and also plenty of room to go further. On Agrima, Abbasi’s guitar sounds as rugged as it ever has and Weiss now possesses the flexibility to go back and forth between tabla and drums to the extent that it sounds of one instrument. For his part, Mahanthappa never seems to run out of original ways to push his alto sax (and now, occasional effects) right into the great, unknown musical expanse he and his cohorts have created.

After a brief, foreboding intro (“Alap”), Indian chords are played on “Snap” but the interaction between alto sax, guitar and tabla transcend ethnic lines. Mahanthappa is the main improvising voice here, but Abbasi ties him to Weiss with rhythms that lend tonality to the tabla and unifying lead lines with the saxophonist at key moments. And then Abbasi and Mahanthappa nimbly switch roles while Weiss heads to his drums and before you realize it, the trio had shifted from East to West without losing the original vibe of the song.

“Showcase” is founded upon a rock vamp that Abbasi conveys absent any pretension and then the effects come into play from both Mahanthappa and the guitarist via his pedals, soloing with double lines that directly extend from his riff as Mahanthappa can be heard offering countering thoughts away from the mic. Further integration of technology into their organically produced sound opens up the tonal palette on “Agrima.” Weiss nervy rhythms gooses up the energy level as Mahanthappa offers a theme that adapts to Weiss’ whims and then Abbasi goes off leash for a scorcher of a solo.

“Can-Did” digs deep into mood in a song that seemingly progresses on its own accord culminating in a three-way parlay of its exotic theme, while “Rasikapriya” is episodic, full of living-in-the-moment moments, ending with Abbasi’s stinging lines and Mahanthappa joining him for a climatic final go around of the theme. “Revati” is that long, contemplative composition that innately spools out, and perhaps the most Subcontinental track of this batch. Not coincidentally so, it’s also the most spiritual. Mahanthappa puts on a boss display of alto sax action to lead off “Take-Turns,” and keeps the tension going as he hands over the baton to Abbasi.

Agrima can be had for only $2.50 as a digital download, or a limited edition deluxe double vinyl for old schoolers willing to shell out a bit more.


S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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