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Rez Abbasi: A Throw of Dice by the Silent Ensemble (Whirlwind)

A review guitarist/composer's musical score for the 1929 film

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Rez Abbasi, A Throw of Dice by the Silent Ensemble
The cover of A Throw of Dice by the Silent Ensemble by Rez Abbasi

When the German-Indian film epic A Throw of Dice arrived in 1929, it appeared to have everything going for it, including a cast of 10,000 extras and dozens of tigers and elephants. Everything, that is, but sound. The film’s premiere coincided with the game-changing advent of talkies, and yet even now, thanks in part to online exposure, it’s easy to appreciate the production’s fully immersive nature, sweep, and beauty.

Enter Rez Abbasi. The acclaimed guitarist/composer has acknowledged that he was both honored and intimidated by the recent commission he received to compose a musical score for A Throw of Dice, and not merely because the opportunity marked a career first. To do the film justice, he surmised, would require assembling a chamber jazz-like ensemble with musical and cultural sensibilities equal to the task. Turns out, as this panoramic 19-track collection attests, he needn’t have worried. Though designed to enhance future live screenings of the film, the soundtrack stands on its own from the outset, drawing on raga influences, through-composed passages, and entrancing textural weaves and percussion, while also incorporating traditional and contemporary elements of jazz expression and interplay.

Of course, the cross-cultural impulse to improvise plays a significant role in the final mix, whether contributing additional dynamics, motion, and colors to the performances or lyrically underscoring their often soulful bent. Deploying acoustic, electric, and electric-sitar guitars, Abbasi is accompanied by four closely attuned Silent Ensemble musicians: saxophonist/flutist Pawan Benjamin, bassist/cellist Jennifer Vincent, percussionist Rohan Khrishnamurthy, and drummer Jake Goldbas. Just shy of the film’s 74-minute length, this richly evocative soundtrack will likely be followed by numerous film opportunities for Abbasi if it receives even a small fraction of the recognition it deserves. In fact, it’s a safe bet. 

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Mike Joyce

A former editor of JazzTimes, Mike Joyce has written extensively on jazz, blues, country, and pop music for The Washington Post, Maryland and Washington, D.C. public television stations, and other outlets.