Yet another side of Mahanthappa, the Indian-American alto saxophonist whose collaborations with the classical Dakshina Ensemble featuring Kadri Golpalnath (Kinsmen) and with pianist Vijay Iyer in a variety of settings (most notably the duet disc, Raw Materials) are superb jazz hybrids of tradition and innovation. The Indo-Pak Coalition is a nimble trio named for the heritage of Mahanthappa and Pakistani guitarist Rez Abassi (tabla player Dan Weiss is an American with no ties to India or Pakistan). Yet that moniker, and the fact that “Apti” translates into “coming together,” should not be construed as addressing the political enmity in that region of the world. This is upbeat, accessible music that won’t resolve centuries of strife, but can brighten your mood with most every listen.
There are inevitable comparisons to Shakti, stemming from Weiss’s polyrhythmic tabla beneath busy, angular sax lines from Mahanthappa that are reminiscent of John McLaughlin’s guitar work in that band. But Indo-Pak is more overtly jazz-centric, even on the lone cover, Ravi Shankar’s “Vandanaa Trayee,” which occasionally sports a raga lilt and generally settles into a relaxed groove, yet still emphasizes harmonic complexity. The other seven tracks are Mahanthappa originals, and with Abassi and Weiss both longtime sidemen from his other ensembles, the interplay is adventurous and exacting. “IIT” and “You Talk Too Much” are both paced as crowd-pleasing sprints, with the former featuring the attractive gimmick of the sax tagging the guitar phrases, and then the tabla tagging the sax phrases, and the latter benefiting from a seductive vamp and Abassi sitar-ish ululations. Abassi also departs from his buttery-tones for a more rockish tinge on the bluesy “Baladhi,” highlighted by a Mahanthappa solo that’s sinuous and probing at the same time.
Less technically advanced than Kinsmen and less avant-garde than Raw Materials, Apti instead aims to establish a lighter, more spacious atmosphere for its three players to dart and glide. While it is not necessarily an “important” addition to the Mahanthappa catalogue, there’s an indomitable spirit here that durably generates positive energy.