By Samir Shukla
Guitarist Rez Abbasi, pianist Vijay Iyer and saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa form the core of the quintet Rez Abbasi Invocation. The combo, along with a cellist, will perform at Duke University on January 22. Their work weaves jazz with South Asian music, including Carnatic, Hindustani and Qawwali, and the result is a wholly new shade of jazz.
Abbasi was born in Karachi and moved to the United States with his family at the age of four. He cut his teeth on garage rock in his teens and around the age of 21 became interested in jazz practically overnight. He quit his band, dove into jazz, studied at Manhattan School of Music and today is an accomplished and inventive guitarist working in the jazz and world music realms.
“I’m a very rhythmical player on the guitar,” he told me in a recent interview. “I listened to qawwali for years, also Hindustani music and South Indian Carnatic music, with all these influences I do not like to limit my output. I like the term jazz because it has a profound history, but people throw that word around and it sounds a little empty. It’s a real music, not a passing genre, authentic like the blues.”
Abbasi also said his work with his wife, vocalist Kiran Ahluwalia, has influenced him and the years of working with her also informs his music.
When asked about his composing process and working with other established musicians he said, “by the time I bring the music to the band I already know what’s going to work, and confident with the experience I’ve had over the years. When you take it to the band its almost somewhat of a reinterpretation. What I hear and what they hear, everyone brings their personality into the mix.”
This combo is finalizing the third in the series of works weaving jazz and South Asian music. “With this band we’ve done two records already. We put Hindustani music ideas into jazz into the record Things to Come. The second record is Suno Suno, more about being influenced by qawwali music and I didn’t put a vocalist there because I didn’t want to imitate qawwali. It’s highly groove oriented and rhythmic. The third record, the yet to be released Unfiltered Universe, is based on Carnatic music. With that one we’ve covered three large territories of South Asian music.”
It’s this third work that will be the focus of the group’s performance on Friday, January 22, 8pm at Baldwin Auditorium on the campus of Duke University. Tickets range from $15-$28. Duke students $10.
For more details, visit www.Dukeperformances.org.