When: Fri., Jan. 22, 8 p.m. 2016
REZ ABBASI INVOCATION
FRIDAY, JAN. 22
DUKE'S BALDWIN AUDITORIUM, DURHAM—Guitarist Rez Abbasi, pianist Vijay Iyer and saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa are at the vanguard of a generation of musicians exploring the connections between jazz and the music of the Indian subcontinent. A 2013 MacArthur Fellow, Iyer is probably the best known. He has the widest musical range, composing modernist string quartets, covering albums that dig deep for their source material and using hip-hop as the basis for backing tracks. Mahanthappa is the most musically adventurous, going deep into ragas and Hindustani harmonic systems. Abbasi is the technician, with a flair for flying around the fingerboard.
For this show, Abbasi will be front and center, leading his Invocation ensemble (which includes Iyer, Mahanthappa and drummer Dan Weiss, along with bassist Johannes Weidenmueller and cellist Elizabeth Means) through a series of original compositions rooted as much in qawwali as jazz. Abbasi doesn't attempt to re-create qawwali, so you won't actually hear any Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan within these tunes. Instead, he invokes its ecstatic energy and expansive form within jazz, broadly defined. His 2013 album, Suno Suno, spins dense tapestries, layering complex polyrhythms inside whirling tunes.
I initially approached this concert with some trepidation. I was excited to hear what Mahanthappa and Iyer would do as soloists within the ensemble, but I was concerned about how the tunes themselves would stand up. Abbasi's albums as a leader have occasionally left something to be desired, occasionally suffering from poor compositions or flat playing. But as I've dug into Suno Suno and Abbasi's Invocation ensemble more, I'm less worried. Abbasi seems to have found a voice, and his musical bond with these fellow travelers should supply adequate spark to propel their interactions. Abbasi also plays a free jam session at The Shed in Durham Thursday, Jan. 21, at 7 p.m. 8 p.m., $10–$28, 1336 Campus Drive, Durham, 919-684-4444, dukeperformances.duke.edu. —Dan Ruccia