The modern world’s a lawnmower, and souls and minds are the grass. So guitarist-percussionist Rez Abbasi has a problem: He’s soulfully intelligent.
What Abbasi needs are sturdy spikes to bust the blades, and on a couple of tracks on >Bazaar>, he’s got ‘em: saxists Rudresh Mahanthappa and Marc Mommaas. After snakecharming harmonies and solo switch-offs with Abbasi’s sitar-guitar on the title track, the two eventually stoke things up to a damn good boil. (Mahanthappa’s note-bending alto tends to make its points more persuasively on records such as this and Vijay Iyer’s than on his own.) And on “Mid-Life,” the saxecutioners work up a sweat with their feints and counterpunches.
Abbasi’s axmanship -- tensile, inventive, capable of harmonic surprise -- is an uncanny abstract communicator of his inmost feelings. And, with the hastening help of drummer Danny Weiss (Dave Liebman, Vijay Iyer) and the rich juice of Hammond organ donor Gary Versace (John Scofield, Maria Schneider), he sets moods of uneasy serenity, creeping urgency and dark suspicion that reflect the challenges we’re all up against. But most of the tracks drift away into resignation, an attitude paralleled by the Astrud-like catatonia of Kiran Ahuwalia’s India-inflected vocal wails. Since Abbasi grew up in L.A. as a Van Halen headbanger, seems like he’d know how to hit back. His fusionistic electric chops, though, tend to see action more via introspection and self-argument (“You People”) than in bloody battle.
Such criticisms, of course, reek with MetalJazz’s barbaric Western prejudices. And a guy named Gandhi did get fair results without resorting to the scimitar. Listen to >Bazaar> while slaving in your cubicle, and you may find yourself sabotaging your spreadsheets. (Greg Burk)