Does Rez Abbasi really need another stellar review? Can I figure out how to say something beyond Bill Milkowski, who says, "Abbasi's unpredictable phrasing and accomplished writing are what sets him apart from hordes of other technically adept plectrists?" Maybe I can be more flowery (better yet, more read ) than JazzTimes, who said "Rez Abbasi shows an uncanny flair with no categorical party line. A fresh voice worth hearing." From my outpost in Beantown, can I possibly render a more expert opinion than our resident Jeeves of the Apple, David Adler, who says that he's, "Probably the most underrated guitarist in New York" (that includes some pretty heavy and pretty underrated cats!). Sure I can! More important though, that the review contributes somehow to Rez getting some name recognition and some clicking on his website, www.reztone.com , and that his products sell well directly from the latest label and hype-deserving talent to go out on a self-decided independent limb.
First things first-Rez is a flat out thrilling guitarist with facility, chops, tone, taste and sound to spare. In my book, any 6-stringer who evokes the influences of Frisell, Holdsworth and Torn bears a good listening to. Funny, Rez himself lists Jim Hall, then Wes and Benson, as his primary guys. Thing is, he's got the big ears for tone and sound sculpture that the first threesome is known for. This leads to, for instance, a chorus containing the many notes and chromatics of a Benson, combined with the characteristic "pinching off," almost typewriter-like, attack that Frisell or Holdsworth exhibit on occasion (like on "Gold Rush") or Torn-like distortion and microtonal sliding combined with Holdsworthyan legato (on "To Your Perfection" or "Ganges"). Another thing that separates Rez is his knack for throwing sophisticated two and three-note chord clusters into his playing a la Mick Goodrick or more contemporary kin Ben Monder.
I've been following Rez since one of 1992's finest debuts, "Third Ear," which was probably known more in fusion circles although it wasn't wholly classifiable as a fusion record. No fusion here-in fact, Abbasi's about outdone himself on this disc compositionally, fashioning a first-class, small group outing featuring boldly arranged two man horn lines sometimes augmented by his single-note guitar. This type of date may be like something you'd find on Fresh Sound, Arabesque or Winter and Winter, for instance.
"To Your Perfection" features a two-man horn chart executed just that way over a repeating FripporTornic-rhythm figure. Tony Malaby (sax) and Ron Horton (trumpet), both of whom have excellent recordings out under their own names, make a formidable team and are full of surprises throughout. Not the least surprise, to me, is that Malaby is also quite a soprano player, which he wastes no time in exhibiting just prior to first tune's end. Hearing the way this band interacts brings to mind the fact that just assembling these guys in the studio is the only testament needed to the depths of the writing by Rez on this date (which, by the way, was recorded in a single day).
"Out Of Body" is a beautiful chamber-like ballad sporting downtowner sophistication and taste and more tricky guitar/two-horn unison passages. "Winner's Circle" is the "blow" of the disc , featuring a particularly sick soprano over an incredibly fast tempoed 3 on 4 thing. The guitar work here emphasizes more staccato picking, giving way to deconstruction by all three melodists, and then, a solo spot for Hall, who proves to be another in a line of very musical, space-loving downtown drummers. "Phosphor Colors" shows Abbasi's personalization of steel-stringed acoustic, with a melody voiced on acoustic bass by Herbert. Rez has a way with steel, somehow making it sound like a nylon hybrid - the notes all have that pop even though they're not all picked. His single note solo here imparts a feeling of falling, relaxed, into the pillow of spacious harmony provided so well beneath by the horns and rhythm section.
"Ganges' bears the only obvious references to his Pakistani heritage in the intro, but becomes quickly replaced by another, less ethnic, hypnotic chordal guitar phrase that also serves to blur the time signature. I think it's the disc's best guitar solo, flowing and falling, wrapping in on itself over the challenging, rising and falling horns. This gives way to an impressive feature for Horton, speaking alone until rejoined by Hall on drum kit percussion, then relenting to Malaby's brand of post-bop command. These guys obviously had some fun with "Dark Bones," a twisted blues with a twisted chart as well as an opportunity for Abbasi to provide angular fills and a laid back solo so full of space and taste. "Half The Battle" deserves special mention, featuring a dissonant intro with it-seems-like-altered tuning on guitar and bowed bass. A rubato, tension-filled horn line, featuring separate-yet-together parts ensues, snapping back into time impeccably with a hypnotic modulating hexagonal riff. Advanced compositionally, we even get a solo section featuring the three melodists all playing at the same time.
This one's got something for everyone-guitar players, Tony Malaby or Ron Horton fans, fans of erudite small group writing and arranging, fans of the new breed of downtown drummers, or maybe someone who just wants "in" on one of the top releases thus far this year. Hopefully, it'll give back to Rez, who's decided to do it himself now, in a way that ensures we all get the chance to hear more of his eventful evolution.
Personnel: Abbasi (guitars), Tony Malaby (saxophones), Ron Horton (trumpet), John Hebert (acoustic bass) , Bruce Hall (drums)