Rez Abbasi: Reziliently Brilliant
“ After being offered three separate deals from labels, I came to a conclusion that I didn't want to give up publishing or ownership to anyone unless the money and distribution were adequate, and they weren't. ”
At 36, Rez Abbasi is the latest accomplished and proven musician with a few solo releases and a few sideman appearances in his discography to choose the independent jazz route. Born in Pakistan, raised in the USA since the age of three, and having gone east from west internationally as well as domestically, Abbasi is known as a jazzer who displays some restrained measure of his East Indian roots in his composition, playing and harmonic concept. On his superb latest release, Out of Body, he's fashioned a first-class, small group outing featuring boldly arranged two man horn lines sometimes augmented by his single-note guitar. Within this erudite framework, his own playing shines with a phraseology borrowing equally from "Downtown" cool to more technical chops-but-taste-laden vocabularies. He goes nicely "in" and "out," but not overtly ethnic, in a rousing, visceral way. All of this has the potential to change dramatically with the next release from his newly minted reztone.com, but let's allow him to drop his own news, and give him the opportunity to, uh... explain himself, shall we?
All About Jazz: How old are you and where did you grow up?
Rez Abassi: 36, Los Angeles, CA.
AAJ: How did you get into music?
RA: It's always been in and around me so I guess it just happened. I took piano lessons at an early age, then my uncle brought home a cheap guitar when I was eleven.
AAJ: Who were your influences, as a musician, and more specifically, on guitar? As you began, and then, as you started to mature musically?
RA: Everything influenced me when I was young, bands like Rush, Van Halen, Rolling Stones, etc. As I matured, I began listening to jazz and Indian classical as well as European music. On guitar, I would have to say Jim Hall made the most impact on me although I did love Wes and Benson as well. I soon stopped listening to guitar and pursued saxophonists and pianists- no surprise there.
AAJ: Tell us about those periods of what you feel, were of most intense growth as a musician.
RA: Well I hope I can still look forward to those. I did go through a period of serious growth that started when I was in college in California I remember for a few years I would practice any where from six to ten hours regularly. It was not only valuable for my playing but also it gave me perspective on how it feels to spent a lot of time secluded.
I remember spending a year playing free music with reed player Daniel Carter and drummer Paul Gregorian. That was an interesting trio because we would explore a lot of textures. It was a true listening experience and without a bass, I was forced to drop all harmonic preconceptions and go with the wind. I think some of this influence rubbed off on my Modern Memory record.
I also spent two months in India which proved to be stimulating. I can't measure how much I grew musically, although I was attending many of Ustad Allas Rakha's tabla classes. As a person raised in the west, hanging out alone in a Third-World country, for that long, was very powerful and humbling- ultimately, it had an impact on my music.
AAJ: To my mind, you are in the same class as many of the great young players of today- Rosenwinkel, Shepik, Fuze, Gilmore, Ducret, etc. Plus you've gotten reviews as good as any of those guys. What do you feel needs to happen to give you a bit more name recognition?
RA: The only way one can really make a name in this industry is if he/she is playing with well known entities. I haven't done so much of that and my hustling chops aren't the greatest. The truth is that recognition does get you more gigs and record deals, but doesn't always translate into good music. I found that a lot of good side men end up putting out not so good solo projects.
What seems to convince critics and media the most, is not always the music, but rather who you've played with, as if you must be great if so and so hired you. This translates to the audience because audiences usually don't take risks with new artist unless the media is hyping them up. In turn, a lot of great artist are overlooked. Take Lennie Tristano for instance-if he played with Bird or Miles, I would guess that he would have been in the limelight much more and would have had greater opportunities. Does that mean his playing isn't some of the greatest piano playing of all time? Of course not. But that's not to say that a lot of players who are recognized, don't deserve it either.
AAJ: You seem very comfortable on all axes... electric, steel string acoustic and nylon acoustic... and you seem to bring real respect to each axe in terms of what you play and the context you put it in. How did that develop, and what influences do you bring to the fore with each.
RA: I just have an affinity towards stringed instruments and that's why I play them all. For the most part, I've been sticking to acoustic steel string for the last few recordings as well as electric. I studied classical guitar with Scott Tenant of the L.A. Guitar Quartet and found that to be beneficial. Lately I've been getting in touch with my roots by using an electric sitar-guitar as well as a fretless. I'm also endorsing a solid body D'Angelico that really sounds great and has a fat, hollow body type sound.