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01/11/12

Rez Abbasi's Invocation
Suno Suno
Enja Records

Don’t get hung up on the fact that Rez Abbasi’s new album is being touted as his attempt to blend jazz and the devotional Qawwali music of his native Pakistan. Suno Suno is hardly another world-music hybrid grafting the surface trappings of one tradition onto the skeletal framework of another. Whatever influence Qawwali—the ecstatic Sufi vocal music made most famous by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan—had on Abbasi’s writing, it is fully integrated into a taut, adventurous ensemble sound.

It doesn’t hurt that Abbasi’s Invocation quintet largely comprises instrumentalists with the proven dexterity to fuse cultural influences into a singular vision. The guitarist is joined by his compatriots in the Indo-Pak Coalition, saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa and drummer Dan Weiss, and by Mahanthappa’s frequent collaborator, pianist Vijay Iyer. While their own border-crossing experiments prove valuable here, what is most important is each musician’s skill at navigating the elusive pathways of Abbasi’s intricate compositions.

Opener “Thanks for Giving” features the leader and Mahanthappa charting an elaborately circuitous melody over an urgent pulse by the rhythm section, informed by the rock and fusion tastes of Abbasi’s youth. On the other end, the bright funk groove of “Part of One” suddenly snarls into a series of knotty solos.

In his liner notes, Abbasi cites gospel and blues as American equivalents to Qawwali. And just as generations of jazzmen have borrowed the spirit and feel of those forms to enliven their own music, so Abbasi imbues his work with the rapturous feel of his transcendent sources.

Originally published in December 2011
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