From the beginning of his career, alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa has traveled in multiple musical universes, but the music of southern India has always been a polestar. For his latest album, Mahanthappa reunites his Indo-Pak Coalition — with guitarist Rez Abbasi and percussionist Dan Weiss — the band responsible for the excellent 2008 album Apti, which gracefully combined jazz improvisation with Indian classical music. Here the group raises the stakes.
All three voices maintain equal footing: Mahanthappa’s fleet, clearly articulated lines; Weiss’ elastic, layered rhythms; and Abbasi’s coherent narratives, which he conjures regardless of the pedal effects he employs. In fact, electronic enhancements play a big role overall. Mahanthappa frequently treats his alto with software effects, lending a gauzy, dreamlike ambiance to “Showcase” and an otherworldly vibe to “Rasikapriya.” Another new development is that Weiss plays a hybrid set-up of tabla and drum set, allowing for varied textures and more aggressive grooves on some tracks. Taken together, this album has a harder edge than the group’s previous effort, and it’s all the better for it.
The influence of South Indian and South Asian music remains on the surface, particularly on tracks like the rolling “Snap” and the gentle “Can-Did,” but those are hardly the only reference points. “Showcase” glides along on a medium-tempo blues-rock type of groove centered on a descending melodic line. The title track, highlighted by Abbasi’s effects-laden arpeggios, Weiss’ skittering drum patterns and Mahanthappa’s soaring melody, brings 1970s prog rock to mind. Most pieces operate on multiple levels. “Rasikapriya” begins with precise Indian tabla rhythms and Mahanthappa’s sinuous phrases, then gradually floats into dreamy abstraction before coming back to earth with Weiss’ hyper-kinetic drum patterns driving the action.
With Agrima, Mahanthappa continues his penchant for creating sounds that are forward-leaning yet highly accessible, all while honoring various traditions. The album is available as a $2 download or on vinyl as a double LP exclusively from Mahanthappa’s website (rudreshm.com).
—John Frederick Moore