Rudresh Mahanthappa’s Indo-Pak Coalition: Agrima (rudreshm.com)

Review of album from innovative cross-cultural band led by saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa

Cover of Rudresh Mahanthappa’s Indo-Pak Coalition album Agrima
Rudresh Mahanthappa’s Indo-Pak Coalition album Agrima

Since the last Indo-Pak Coalition album came out in 2008, saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa and guitarist Rez Abbasi have each released a handful of substantial records as bandleaders, and drummer-tabla player Dan Weiss has generated his own strong discography. On this belated follow-up, Agrima, the trio has less to prove and more to flex.

The most obvious additions to the sinuous raga-jazz of the debut are the introduction of electronic effects and a greater inclination to indulge the crossover sizzle that can occur when Western rock and blues meshes with cantering Indian and Pakistani rhythms. This is especially true of the title song, which bends the sax-guitar braid into an almost bagpipe-like keening and then keeps circling back to the melodic chorus, after quiet interludes, with increasing speed and intensity. On two other resplendent numbers, “Snap” and “Rasikapriya,” the core Indo-Pak template is established—Mahanthappa bristling, Weiss strafing the mix with tabla beats, Abbasi chording and then engaging the sax in call and response—before pivoting to a new level. On “Snap,” Abbasi goes woozy abetted by electronics and then gradually begins to shred, as Weiss, on drums, helps him up the ante before Mahanthappa takes his heavily modulated solo. On “Rasikapriya,” the band disappears into an ether of effects, from which the sax and guitar emerge like geese coming out of the fog—one of many segues that also include a return to the template, a Hendrix-ian quaver from Abbasi and some beat-stalking power-trio interplay.

Agrima has its flaws. There are bouts of meandering—almost all of “Can-Did” and the first half of the 14-minute “Revati”—and Mahanthappa’s distinctive alto attack occasionally devolves from galvanizing to garrulous. But there isn’t another band quite like this—the old Shakti, with John McLaughlin in the Mahanthappa role, is the closest comparison. These are three distinct talents, unfettered in pursuit of the brutish beauty of their collective vision, like the Indo-jazz version of Cream. Nearly a decade between albums, but worth the wait.

Preview, buy or download songs from the album Agrima by Rudresh Mahanthappa’s Indo-Pak Coalition on the artist’s official website.