Things to Come

Rez Abbasi

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Things to Come Review

by Thom Jurek

At some level, it's almost unbelievable that the musician who recorded 2006's Bazaar is the same one who helms Things to Come. Rez Abbasi has grown exponentially, not only as a guitarist -- his style has been inherently recognizable ever since he started gracing sessions in the early part of the decade -- but as a composer and arranger as well. Abbasi has played on a couple of significant recordings in the past couple of years, not the least of which is Rudresh Mahanthappa's Kinsmen (issued on the Pi Recordings imprint), which is at the very least spiritually related to this effort. Mahanthappa returns the favor here, appearing as part of a band that also includes Vijay Iyer on piano; Johannes Weidenm├╝ller on bass; drummer Dan Weiss; Abbasi's wife, Kiran Ahluwalia, on vocals on half the tracks; and cellist Mike Block, who appears in a couple of places. The music on Things to Come is a beautiful meld of South Asian and vanguard jazz, some folk elements, and an intense meld of rhythmic and harmonic approaches that are utterly seamless. The set opens with "Dream State," with strings that approach the sound of a harp and are quickly subsumed by a contrapuntal engagement by Iyer and Abbasi's acoustic. The knotty piano line continues, but Abbasi's electric guitar soon replaces the acoustic and Weidenm├╝ller and Weiss enter the fray, offering a rich blend of melodies and counterpoint, and the shifting time signatures pull the listener in a number of directions without once pulling apart the complex harmonic structure of the tune.

On "Air Traffic," as Abbasi's electric states a dreamy opening theme, caressed by Weiss' restrained cymbal work and some augmented, architecturally rich chords by Iyer, Ahluwalia enters with the lyric, offering a traditional South Asian folk melody. The bandmembers begin to engage with her up front and one another more subtly, until what is left is a beautifully elegant quilt of sound. Knotty solos by Mahanthappa and Iyer take the tune outside a bit, and the rhythm section floats with it, keeping it anchored. This tune in particular provides a glimpse of the rest of the magic to come everywhere (although favorites include the swinging "Hard Colors," the title cut, and the ballad "The Realities of Chromaticism"). Abbasi's complex lyric lines -- which were all composed on instruments other than guitar -- engage his sidemen to solo through them and arrive at a destination that creates yet another possibility. Iyer in particular pushes the melodic frame of each tune with his percussive, intricate approach to counterpoint, whereas Mahanthappa traverses along the outside of these edges and Abbasi changes his soloing style for each tune. But it's the rhythm section that astonishes most on this set. The variations on themes, on other rhythmic structures, and on striated time figures are all offered to the listener as a unified whole. Ultimately, Things to Come is, like Kinsmen and a few other recordings, more proof in the pudding that the integration of South Asian music into the jazz idiom and its tradition is complete, creating entirely new possibilities for both. This is not an album that sums up the past, but brilliantly and soulfully points to new futures.

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