Rez Abbasi in Ottawa, Canada
Mommaas may not have the name recognition of Liebman, but he demonstrated the kind of promise that says we'll be hearing more from him in the future. A fearless improviser on both tenor and soprano, Mommaas had the ability and sense of spontaneous composition to start from almost nothing and build solos that were alive with energy and commitment, fairly bristling with power. Like Versace, Weiss and, of course, Abbasi himself, Mommaas could function in an almost free space, developing his solos with such intention that when the rest of the group rejoined him, it seemed somehow just right.
As for Abbasi, he has managed to forge a style that completely avoids the obvious influences that so many guitarists of his generation demonstrate. On the scene for 15 years now, he has been gradually evolving his own musical language that incorporates broad intervallic leaps, oddly-shaped melodies, unusual closely-voiced harmonies and occasional bursts of blinding speed. While he generally favoured a clean dark sound, on the new and as-yet-untitled piece that opened the second set he adopted a more distorted tone that leaned in the direction of McLaughlin without sacrificing his own vernacular. Abbasi used his odd-looking sitar-guitar an instrument with six strings like a guitar, but with a number of sympathetic strings that gave it a more ethnic timbre on two tunes, and it was here that his sound most closely tied to his Indo/Pakistani roots. Still, even when he was playing a traditional electric guitar, he used certain techniques to approximate the microtonal nature of Indian music.
While both sets were captivating, the group sound and energy took things to another level for the second set. The interplay was that much more happening, the level of risk that much greater and, consequently, the rewards that much more palpable.
With Ottawa being the final date of a short tour of Ontario, Canada, one can only hope that the group was happy enough with the turnout and reception, that when Abbasi gets around to releasing a follow-up disc, he'll consider returning. Clearly the response in the intimate setting of The Bayou was enough to indicate that there'll be an audience waiting for him if he does.
T. Bruce Wittet