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Rez Abbasi: Unfiltered Universe (Whirlwind)

Review of album from innovative guitarist with support from all-star cast

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Cover of Rez Abbasi album Unfiltered Universe
Cover of Rez Abbasi album Unfiltered Universe

Art is shaped by nuance, guitarist Rez Abbasi asserts in the brief liner notes that accompany Unfiltered Universe, and the sentiment offers a clue as to why each of the album’s seven performances invites additional hearings. With every spin, it seems, his latest release reveals fresh rewards and new, far-reaching perspectives.

In a sense, this collection of original pieces is a summing up, the culmination of a recording trilogy previously inspired by Hindustani and Qawwali music. But like its companion albums, Things to Come and Suno Suno, Unfiltered Universe stands alone in many ways, marked by a series of genuinely distinctive, Carnatic-tinted compositions and an evolving collaborative spirit. While Abbasi calls upon a global assortment of influences to skirt conventional East-West pivots, his writing also encourages his Invocation bandmates—saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, pianist Vijay Iyer, bassist Johannes Weidenmueller, cellist Elizabeth Mikhael and drummer Dan Weiss—to substantially shape the performances in ways both subtle and rhythmically compelling. Dramatic shifts in meter, mood and tempo are common, as are spikey intervals and sinuous, sleekly harmonized passages. The album’s title track offers all that and more, with Abbasi and Iyer spinning fluid, spiraling improvisations while Mahanthappa’s alto adds soulful thrust. In addition to striking tonal contrasts, the guitarist’s “unfiltered” approach to composition and arranging here allows for colorful diversions and whimsical streaks. “Turn of Events” slowly and ever-so-curiously springs to life. “Thin-King” is briefly and uproariously punctuated by guitar and piano. And “Dance Number,” not to be missed, caps the album with some engagingly out-of-kilter funk.

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