Rez Abbasi – Unfiltered Universe (Whirlwind)
To over-generalize, one could call guitarist Rez Abbasi’s latest recording “Carnatic bebop.” Of Abbasi’s 12 albums as a leader, this is the third in which he and his Invocation band have specifically explored particular aspects of his South Asian heritage. (He was born in Karachi, Pakistan, and raised in Southern California.) On 2008’s Things to Come, he delved into the North Indian Hindustani tradition, and on 2011’s Suno Suno, the Qawwali music of Pakistan. For this album, Abbasi specifically dug into the Carnatic music of South India. It’s another aspect of the personal exploration that he and the alto saxophonist and pianist on this date, Rudresh Mahanthappa and Vijay Iyer (both Indian-Americans), and drummer Dan Weiss, have pursued on a variety of projects, collectively and separately.
Like those other projects, Unfiltered Universe is a true fusion, taking in all aspects of Abbasi’s musical personality. Thus, the multi-section development of “Turn of Events” includes a surging passage of “African” 6/8, countered by a stuttering Carnatic rhythmic pattern from Iyer, as well as a passage in which piano and bass (Johannes Weidenmueller) move from spare abstraction to rhapsodic chords, like an old Andrew Hill track that died and went to heaven.
Then there’s the flag-waving velocity of album-opener “Propensity,” marked by Mahanthappa’s ferocious articulation and meaty timbre, and the familiar bebop form of theme-and-solo variations; and the jazz-rock thump of “Dance Number,” with Abbasi’s smooth guitar flow riding the beat. But just as often, these forms, with their headlong rush of unison themes, break for quiet rumination, out-of-tempo epiphanies, or a combination of guitar and cello (guest Elizabeth Mikhael) that’s like a remembered echo of some Bollywood string section. Another kind of bebop, indeed.
— Jon Garelick