Agrima (Self Produced)

Indo-Pak Coalition / Rudresh Mahanthappa

Released October 17, 2017

Allmusic Favorite Jazz Albums 2017



Rudresh Mahanthappa’s Indo-Pak Coalition has been hailed by The New York Times as “a trio equally grounded in folk tradition and jazz improvisation, propos[ing] a social pact as well as a musical ideal.”  The ensemble’s three formidable talents – Mahanthappa on alto saxophone, Rez Abbasi on guitar, and Dan Weiss on tabla – first documented their group conception in 2008 with Apti, which won praise from The Guardian for its “irresistible urgency.”

Agrima, the long-awaited follow-up, finds Mahanthappa and the group expanding aesthetic horizons: adding a modified drumset, incorporating effects and electronics, and working with a broader audio canvas overall. The core of the band’s sound, the vibrant presence of Indian rhythmic and melodic elements in a charged, modern improvisational framework born of the New York jazz scene, remains firmly in place.

According to Mahanthappa, “Agrima” in Sanskrit simply means “next” or “following.” It comes at a propitious time for all three members: Mahanthappa has enjoyed great success with his Bird Calls quintet and recently became Director of Jazz Studies at Princeton University. Abbasi, born in Karachi, Pakistan and raised in California, has revealed a rare mastery of guitar in a range of settings including his own RAAQ acoustic quartet and his heavily electric project, Junction. Weiss, a voraciously eclectic drummer with interests ranging from classical tabla performance to metal, has garnered acclaim for his work ranging from solo drums to trio to large ensemble.

“I wanted everyone to think about Agrima as if we were making a rock album,” Mahanthappa declares. “Apti is almost 10 years old and I think the way that the three of us conceive of non-Western or Indian music sonically and technically has really evolved. So I didn’t want us to be concerned with having an overt Indian sound. I wanted to highlight our interactions, which we’ve developed since 2005 when the band premiered at New York City’s Joe’s Pub.”

From all three instruments we hear a heightening of expressive nuance and possibility. Mahanthappa’s alto is transformed in places by software-driven effects to create strange processed timbres, echoes, decays and soundscapes. “Working with electronics is like learning a new instrument,” Mahanthappa says. “It takes a bit of thought to figure out how to have a voice in that realm. I ended up doing some work with Neil Leonard [from the Berklee College of Music’s program in Electronic Production and Design]. He’s also an alto player. He wrote a piece for the two of us, just two altos and our laptops, and he made all these patches for me, allowing me to use them however I wanted. I was always interested in electronics but my initial foray was not until Samdhi, (2011). That was really kind of a more instinctive approach but in the end it turned out really cool and I got what I wanted. Electronics was something I always wanted to get back to.”

Abbasi’s guitar, clean-toned and fluid (at times even acoustic) on Apti, becomes something bigger and more foreboding on Agrima: there’s an edge and growl to the tone, a looming presence and sustain in the low notes, and more atmosphere thanks to an array of pedal effects that complement Mahanthappa’s electronics at every turn. But perhaps the most pronounced shift from the previous record is Weiss’s hybrid setup, melding tabla with drum set. “A while back we had a gig coming up in Montreal,” Mahanthappa recalls, “and Dan asked what I thought about having him still be seated playing tabla but also with pieces of the drum set around him. We didn’t even rehearse it, we just got to that sound check a half-hour early and Dan threw this thing together that ended up being amazing. That’s how we’ve played ever since. On some tunes Dan only plays drum set, in fact. It all stems from our shared experience and our relationship to Indian music and jazz, which transcends the instrumentation.”

In January 2017 the Indo-Pak Coalition premiered the new set of music that would become Agrima at globalFEST in New York. The energy of that encounter carried forward into the studio, from the eerie rubato incantation of “Alap” to the spiky lines and bracing tempo of “Snap,” from the looping synthesized patterns, fractured beats and sunny temperament of “Agrima” to the simpler, moodier medium groove of “Showcase.” The band is in peak form, executing tough thematic material, attending to fine dynamic contrasts, shifting tempos with spellbinding ease, and of course improvising with depth and ferocity.

There are riveting musical stories to be heard within “Rasikapriya” and “Revati,” ambitious works with ever-shifting rhythmic foundations, gamboling between hyper-precision and pure abstraction. Between the slow and measured legato of “Can-Did” and the agitated esprit of “Take-Turns” we hear the play of extremes, of the unexpected, a many-sided adventurousness that is the Indo-Pak Coalition’s reason for being. Inimitably rendered by three of the most mature and compelling players of our time, Agrima is an album likely to resonate through the years.

Track Listing:

1. Alap (Rudresh Mahanthappa) 2:22

2. Snap (Rudresh Mahanthappa) 9:15

3. Showcase (Rudresh Mahanthappa) 6:04

4. Agrima (Rudresh Mahanthappa) 7:47

5. Can-Did (Rudresh Mahanthappa) 5:50

6. Rasikapriya (Rudresh Mahanthappa) 14:32

7. Revati (Rudresh Mahanthappa) 6:54

8. Take-Turns (Rudresh Mahanthappa) 8:43


Rudresh Mahanthappa: alto saxophone, electronics

Rez Abbasi: guitar, electronics

Dan Weiss: tabla, drums

Recorded April 6 – 7, 2017, at Brooklyn Recording, NY

Recorded by Andy Taub

Mixed and Mastered by Liberty Ellman

Design: Chiraag Bhakta

Photography by Ethan Levitas


Saxophonist and composer Rudresh Mahanthappa’s Indo-Pak Coalition set the jazz world afire with their 2008 offering Apti on Innova. The bandleader has made a career of blurring the lines between his Indian subcontinent roots and modern creative jazz, but the Indo-Pak Coalition, with ace guitarist Rez Abbasi and tabla master Dan Weiss, have done it with more finesse, energy, and imagination than previous groups. Mahanthappa has recorded with both men in other ensembles, but it’s been quite some time since they recorded as a trio in 2008, making this follow-up quite an event. Agrima takes a more open and wide-ranging approach than its predecessor. Abbasi’s electric guitar is dirtier and more effects laden, while Weiss adds his drum kit to the tabla. Even Mahanthappa’s alto horn has been appended — in places — with electronic effects. On “Showcase,” it’s multi-tracked and enveloped in reverb, creating a richer timbral and dynamic palette while sounding completely natural. The title track commences with arpeggiatic runs on a synth before Mahanthappa joins in unison. Weiss adds his break-laden kit and Abbasi kicks in with vamped, distorted power chords. The saxophone is overdubbed as the intricate harmonic line winds out, turns back on itself, and evolves. “Rasikapriya” is hypnotic yet urgent, with raga-like lines on saxophone accompanied by rumbling tabla that gets stretched by ambient electronic flourishes, cymbals, and floating guitar passages that eventually pick up and move with Mahanthappa and Weiss’ kit toward knotty jazz-rock. “Can-Did” is moodier; its shifting time signatures are song-like as the three participants engage in exotic modal counterpoint. The set’s 14-and-a-half-minute “Revati” is more contemplative and challenging. Its unhurried pace features gorgeous textures in Abbasi’s use of volume swells; they introduce a drone-like Carnatic theme by the altoist. The guitarist and Weiss — alternating between tablas and his kit — join as melodic fragments combine and separate into drawn-out harmonic inquiries. The track forms a Moebius Strip before picking up steam with post-bop explosions, building on them in collective improvisation. When Mahanthappa solos, he is listening deeply to the tonal and rhythmic invention constructed by his bandmates. Closer “Take Turns” commences with Mahanthappa soloing in full Coltrane-esque dialogue with himself before hushed electronics, guitar harmonics, and percussion join the fray. Abbasi’s open-chord vamps and Weiss’ trap kit almost transform the jam into rock, but Mahanthappa’s playing keeps pushing back toward jazz and it all gels; the ensemble creates new grooves that emerge, dissipate, shift, and transform as modal blues, raga, and force carry the tune out in a final knotty flurry of shattering beauty. Agrima is a knockout. The Indo-Pak Coalition stack harmonies, textures, dynamics, and peerless rhythmic maneuvering throughout in dazzling combinations. They extend the rich history of Indo-jazz fusion beyond its historical conversational and dialogic boundaries to create a new meta-musical language of their own design.

Thom Jurek (Allmusic)