“Abbasi demonstrates that his music continues to thrill and seek out the new…” Concerto Magazine
Comprehending the vastness of music’s evolution over almost a century, even in terms of jazz and world music alone, can be pretty mind-blowing – yet New York-based guitarist/composer Rez Abbasi spans that arc with an original release of quintet music based on ‘A Throw of Dice (A Romance of India)’, a vintage black-and-white Indian-German silent film from 1929.
New album, A Throw of Dice is Abbasi’s 13th release and his first film score. It features his group – The Silent Ensemble with saxophonist/flautist Pawan Benjamin, bassist/cellist Jennifer Vincent, Carnatic percussionist Rohan Krishnamurthy and drummer Jake Goldbas. The project was commissioned in 2017 by David Spelman, curator of the celebrated New York Guitar Festival. Following an Abbasi trio performance at WNYC’s Green Space, hosted by veteran radio DJ John Schaefer, Spelman quickly recognised the eclecticism and power in Abbasi’s music and what his broad musical range could bring to a larger concept. “The idea was to write a new score for the historic 74-minute film – A Throw of Dice, and to perform it live at Brookfield Place in Manhattan and The Krannert Center in Illinois”, explains Rez, “The film is simply amazing – the last and widely regarded as the best in a trilogy made by German director Frank Osten – shot in dramatic locations within Rajasthan with ‘jungle’ animals and a cast of thousands.” The tale is based on an episode from The Mahābhārata, one of two epic Sanskrit tales of India from 8th century B.C.E.; a moral and philosophical story of love and manipulation, played out in a very human fashion where (just as relevant in our times) greed ultimately can never win.
Inspired by ragas and Indian rhythms, Abbasi has created a sequence of richly aromatic soundscapes which, importantly, reflect his own jazz, western classical and rock music personality. This began as a musical narrative – a through-composed “collaboration with Indian and cinematography history” with both scored and improvisatory responses to on-screen action. Yet away from the visuals it’s a striking creation, integrated and brought to life by each member playing multiple instruments; standard jazz instrumentation augmented by sitar-guitar, cello, bansuri flute, ghatam, mridangam and kanjira. As Rez states, “It was imperative to have a versatile group in order to mirror the flow of the film. With these textural possibilities, I felt I had the flexibility to keep the music aligned with whatever emotional content the film presented."
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