Over two nights in the middle of December, jazz guitarist Rez Abbasi premiered his new work Unfiltered Universe at Asia Society in Manhattan alongside his esteemed band, Invocation. Invocation includes two other prominent musicians steeped in South Asian styles, Vijay Iyer on piano and Rudresh Mahanthappa on saxophone as well as Johannes Weidenmueller on bass, Dan Weiss on drums and Elizabeth Means on cello. Invocation shouldn’t be considered a fusion band or world music, however — the Indian influences are more subtle.
As the Village Voice noted in a recent interview with Abbasi, “Invocation plays jazz compositions, all by Abbasi, and relates to Indian music at a very broad level (both styles are fundamentally driven by improvisation) and a very subtle one, shaped by years of listening to Indian music and working with Indian musicians — not in between.”
Unfiltered Universe draws on Carnatic Indian classical music and treats pauses from the music as importantly as it treats the rhythms and notes. Abbasi told Village Voice that, “All the beats are accounted for. It’s difficult to memorize this stuff, because not only do you have to memorize the music, but you have to memorize the silences.” The album completes a musical trilogy for Invocation. Their debut Things to Come incorporated Hindustani music with improvisation while Suno Suno flirted with spiritual qawwali music.
I hadn’t seen Abbasi perform before so it was a treat to catch him lead the band throughout a charming performance (apparently their NYC premiere) that favored new material strongly in their set and through solos and improvs they proved the jazz and Carnatic music are easily forged together. Their set included “Thanks for Giving” off the second album as well as the title track from the forthcoming album and also a track later introduced as “Thin King” — his a play on words got a laugh from the audience (the entire set from the second night is streaming below).
The respectful audience regularly demonstrated they enjoyed more than Abbasi’s jokes. Fortunately, they had studied the meaning of silences in performances as well and, during the brief pauses, the crowd met the band with rapturous applause.