Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

What’s Next at the Miller Theatre? High Voltage Indian Jazz

In Sanskrit, “agrima” means “what’s next.” That’s the title of whirlwind alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa’s 2017 album with his Indo-Pak Coalition: guitarist Rez Abbasi and drummer Dan Weiss. The trio are bringing their sometimes raptly hypnotic, sometimes wildly intense show to the Miller Theatre at 8 PM on Feb 9. You can get in for $30, which by ever-more-extortionistic Manhattan jazz club standards isn’t bad. And you won’t get hustled to spend more on drinks, either.

All three of the band members have been involved with very diverse projects over the years: this may be the best project Weiss has been in, and Abbasi has never played more resonantly or tunefully than he does here. The album opens with a lingering, suspenseful, rubato overture simply titled Alap (referring to the improvisation at the beginning of a raga). From there Mahanthappa hits a rapidfire bhangra riff and they’re off, into the ominous, modal melody of Snap, Weiss’ cymbal crashes leaving no doubt how epic this will get. A scampering, bristling conversation between guitar and sax; a Mahanthappa solo packed with his signature, unwavering wind-tunnel microtonal attack; a gritty, more enigmatic one from Abbasi; and a long, somewhat wry crescendo based around a popular carnatic riff ends it in a tightly wound frenzy. if this doesn’t raise your heart rate, you aren’t alive.

Showcase has an oldtime gospel/blues sway anchored by Abbasi’s prowling rhythm, the bandleader fluttering brightly overhead, Weiss’ clave taking it in a more latin direction. The album’s title track expands from a hypnotic, motorik intro to a rather joyous theme, Abbasi’s burning, sustained chords holding it down. They take it halfspeed, then back, with another adrenalizing crescendo.

Can-Did, a steady, disquieting stroll, has uneasy, sustained Abbasi jangle against Mahanthappa’s resonant lines, until the band brighten and shift in a funkier direction. The trio begin Rasikapriya as a gorgeous mashup of rustic oldtime blues and ominously modal raga melody, then dip to an opaque, atmospheric interlude. This time it’s Abbasi’s jagged solo fueling the upward climb.

Revati, the album’s most epic number, has a surrealistically techy solo guitar intro, moodily circling sax and numerous tempo shifts, Weiss alternating between tabla and a full drum kit. The long trajectory before a series of false endings is more blithe and also more predictable than anything else here. The final cut is Take-Turns, with insistent, minimalist sax contrasting with scampering guitar; then the two switch roles. Whether you consider this raga music with jazz instrumentation, or jazz based on Indian themes, it’s the best of both worlds.

Now…other than the vinyl record, which a lot of people will want, where can you actually hear this? Not at Mahanthappa’s Bandcamp page, or youtube, or even Spotify. That was a problem when the album came out and that’s why it wasn’t reviewed here. For now, try Soundcloud and good luck.

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February 2, 2019 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Violinist Meg Okura Brings Her Kaleidoscopic Melodic Sorcery to Jazz at Lincoln Center

Anne Drummond’s flute wafts over Brian Marsella’s uneasily rippling, neoromantic piano as the opening title track on violinist Meg Okura‘s Pan Asian Chamber Jazz Ensemble’s new album, Ima Ima gets underway. Then the piano gives way to Riza Printup’s spare harp melody before the rest of the orchestra waltz in elegantly. That kind of fearless eclecticism, love of unorthodox instrumentation and laserlike sense of catchy melodies have defined Okura’s work for over a decade. The new record is streaming at Bandcamp. She and the group are playing the album release show at Dizzy’s Club tomorrow night, August 20, with sets at 7:30 and 9:30 PM. Cover is steep, $35, but this is an amazing record with a brilliant band.

The lush cinematics of that first number winds up with a shift in tempo, a wistful Sam Newsome soprano sax solo and a big crescendo based on those distantly ominous opening ripples. The epic, practically eleven-minute A Summer in Jerusalem slowly coalesces with suspenseful textures from top to bottom, the high strings of the harp down to Sam Sadigursky’s bass clarinet, surrounded by ghostly flickers. As the piece gets going, it turns into a mighty, shapeshifting Middle Eastern soul tune, more or less. Marsella’s Rhodes piano bubbles enigmatically behind Tom Harrell’s stately Andalucian trumpet and Okura working every texture and microtone you could get out of a violin. Blithe ba-ba vocalese and spiky guitar against Okura’s calm, a gentle harp/trumpet duet and then a big magnificent coda fueled by the bass clarinet offer contrasting vignettes of a time that obviously left a big mark on the bandleader.

Ebullient, bluesy muted trumpet, violin and bass clarinet spice A Night Insomnia, a steady Hollywood hills boudoir funk number that finally picks up steam with a juicy chromatic riff at the end. Birth of Shakyamuni (a.k.a. Buddha) opens with a balletesque, Tschaikovskian flair, then shifts to a Rachmaninovian bolero that brightens and flies down to Bahia on the wings of the guitar and flute. Then Okura shifts gears with an achingly beautiful opening-credits theme of sorts – would it be overkill to add Rimsky-Korsakov to this litany of Russians?

The steady, majestic, velvety Blues in Jade is all about suspense, peppered by judicious violin and vocalese cadenzas, enigmatic microtones floating from individual voices as Pablo Aslan’s bass and Jared Schonig’s drums maintain a tight, muted syncopation. Marsella’s chromatically allusive piano solo leads to a mighty crescendo that falls away when least expected.

Black Rain – a shattered 3/11 reflection from this Tokyo-born composer, maybe? – opens with Okura’s stark erhu soio, then rises with a bittersweet sweep to a more optimistic Marsella piano solo before Okura pulls the music back the shadows, ending with an almost frantically angst-fueled erhu theme.

The album’s concluding number is Tomiya, a wildly surreal mashup of Russian romanticism, vintage swing, Japanese folk themes and samba. This isn’t just one of the best jazz albums of the year – it’s one of the best albums of any kind of music released this year. Who do we have to thank for starting the meme that resulted in so many women of Japanese heritage creating such a vast body of amazing, outside-the-box big band jazz like this? Satoko Fujii, maybe?

August 19, 2018 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment