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Outside of the jazz sphere, many listeners will decide whether or not they like a piece of music within the first 10 seconds, more or less. This is because the subtleties of production, instrumentation and arrangement create an aesthetic signature that is more immediate than qualities like form and harmony that emerge with time. Jazz musicians, on the other hand, tend to defy this vertical style of listening, valuing the personality of each instrumentalist more than the tool through which they convey it; the choice to perform as, say, a piano trio is a creative premise rather than a creative act.
Guitarist Rez Abbasi and French harpist Isabelle Olivier have convened with both a drummer and a tabla/kanjira (South Indian frame drum) player for a record that splits the difference. OASIS, an acronym for “Olivier Abbasi Sound in Sound,” came about after the bandleaders met at a festival in 2018, establishing a chemistry that earned them a grant from the French American Cultural Exchange program. And while interpersonal resonance abounds within the four-piece ensemble, there is also a rare fixation on the sonic palette itself.
Throughout an array of fluttering grooves, harmonically corrupted rock vamps and abstract improvisational courtships, OASIS is defined by its use of empty space. Even on the album’s most frenetic compositions, “Other Tones” and “Stepping Stone,” the singular lineup bristles with tactile intimacy. The metallic elements of the drum kit fill out the tabla’s hooded patter just as the overtones glancing off of Abbasi’s reverb-heavy acoustic guitar complement Olivier’s warm voicings.
But it is the introduction of effects that allows the group to hit full stride with its textural alchemy. The ruminative interlude “Dodeca,” along with the record’s agitated highlight “Timeline,” allude to psychedelia with digital delays and pitch-warps that tip the string instruments into bouts of chorus and distortion. More than a curious one-off, OASIS conjures a world worthy of further exploration. — Asher Wolf
Featured photo by Piero Ottavino.