The title track of Rez Abbasi’s Bazaar opens like hard bop with a quasi-raga feel, but instead of one of the two saxophones launching into a solo there’s tabla (from which Danny Weiss now and then switches from drums) and Naren Budhakar whistling for all the world like a strange flute. Another ensemble passage and it’s Abbasi, probably on his sitar-guitar rather than the standard western ax used elsewhere, soloing briefly and handing off to Marc Mommaas on hairy tenor, before coming back in what turns out to be a bridge passage to more saxophone work, with Rudresh Mahanthappa on tenor and Mommaas on soprano and alto, and some heated group improvisation that maintains coordination.
The saxophones don’t resume till track seven, and before then it’s Abbasi in guitar-organ-drums (or sometimes multiple Indian percussion) ensemble, the blurb accurate in its reference to the “context of a guitar-organ trio.”
Gary Versace solos on the next track reminiscent of a performer on Indian squeezebox, and Kiran Ahluwalia delivers an “Indian vocal” with tabla prominent in accompaniment. She’s on “Thin Elephant” too, after an opening featuring organ and tabla, before Abbasi delivers an Indian-accented solo not too far from what I’ve heard from the more inventive John Abercrombie. The lady comes in to color the closing ensemble.
“Life Goes” is a trio number with Weiss very busy on drums before everything falls quiet to let Abbasi suspend another Indo-solo as far as where the drummer comes in and the organ emits gasps and things get a bit more excited.
Solos and whole numbers later tend to be conjurings-together of fragments, modal patterns, with the organist getting worked up and adding some life. Like the following “You People”, the music sounds somewhat formulaic, and the return of the saxophonists on “Mid-Life” is something of a relief, before Ahluwalia comes in again with Weiss on tabla and a certain monotony. The number does somewhat perk up later, courtesy of the organist, though some listeners might by now be starting to wonder how many of the musical ideas are of real substance, and how many are just efforts at variety to leaven a tendency toward monotony: ideas drawn from Western funk and Indian sources and places between.
On the not very promisingly titled “Hindu-Myth”, Versace, the liveliest performer after the opening title, maintains a walking bass at the start, and proceeds into some knocked-out stuff with Weiss thrashing away. The drummer executes a rhythmic scat alternating with drum passages, which is interesting enough but probably representative of an ultimate bittiness of the whole performance.
The next jamming passage in the succession is Abbasi’s on rock-oriented guitar, and if this largely enumerative discussion seems not to add up to anything much on Bazaar, well, perhaps there’s too much insurance in the shapes of variety here, and just not enough risk-taking in this studiously compiled, impeccably played set.
// Notes from the Road
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