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Rez Abbasi: Reziliently Brilliant

By Published: June 1, 2002
AAJ: Are you more likely to bring your Indian/Pakistani influences to the fore on acoustic or electric..or is it just different for each?

RA: It's the same for all, I don't really make a conscious effort to bring those influences out; although with the sitar-guitar, they naturally find a way to surface.

AAJ: You seem to be an able multistylist. Do you like it that way, or would you prefer to be known for an expertise in one bag?

RA: At this point, I don't think of music as being "in styles." The way I approach my music is from a clear canvas. Each composition tells it's own story and therefore tells me what approach will be needed sound wise on the guitar. That's why on some tunes I have a clean tone, others have an over driven sound and yet others are acoustic. Really, I'm just always playing me.

I suppose if the rhythm section is swinging, one might hear a reference toward straight ahead, but I still think we need to do our best to hear the experience as new, so that we're at least subconsciously open to all events that may present themselves. When someone hears my records, they'll hear a palette of different compositional/sound ideas and won't be bored by the fourth track in because the music has the same flavor tune after tune. I don't think life is so one- dimensional.

AAJ: What were the earliest recording or gigging projects you did? Did you start off as a "jazz" guy?

RA: What guitarist really starts off as a "jazz guy"? Basically I played in rock/pop groups through out high school and began getting serious about jazz in my senior year.

AAJ: Hip us to some of your sideman work. I know you've worked with the band "Freedance."

RA: Yes, "Freedance" has been together for nine years. It's based on the music of David Phillips the bassist, although it is collectively approached by all, including saxophonist John O'Gallagher and drummer Tony Moreno. We recently toured in France and finished our second recording five years after our first… talk about patience. It's well worth it however. We've really had some magical moments because everyone listens so hard and doesn't overstate themselves.

I'm also working with a few real dance companies, mostly Indian. That's a challenge because it's usually me on sitar-guitar, a tabla player and a dancer. Also on the Indian tip is drummer Sunny Jain's Collective. We just finished a recording that I'm really happy with, I played a few sitar-guitar solos that should put that instrument in a fresh light. Saxophonist Travis Sullivan leads a group that I've been a part of and he writes some very good music as well. I'm also in vocalist/composer Sarah Holtzschue's group who recently did a recording. As long as I'm in a creative atmosphere, whether it's jazz or not, I'm happy.

AAJ: And Christian Howes
Christian Howes
Christian Howes
, the violinist?

RA: I've been playing on and off with Christian for four years. We've done these annual tours in the mid-west, where he's originally from, although now he's in New York. We'll play everywhere from Lima, Ohio to the Tri-C Jazz Festival. It's been an interesting experience because Christian and I come from very different back grounds and have different ideals in music. So this creates a challenge for us as to how to create a group sound with such diversity. We've had different members on board including DD Jackson, Peter Retzlaff, Sunny Jain
Sunny Jain
Sunny Jain

and Gary Versace
Gary Versace
Gary Versace

organ, Hammond B3
who also bring their concepts to the floor. I like to see it as a growing of sorts rather than a group per se. He's really strong at what he does and I'm sure one day we'll do some recording together.

AAJ: Tell us about the compositional process for you? Do technical elements take a role in that process?

RA: They may after I've come up with something purely out of inspiration. Many times it's just a simple chord progression which leads me into the desire to fulfill an entire composition- that's where the sweat comes in. Usually I'll re-compose something after hearing others play it down or after living with it a while. There are many stages to most of my tunes.

AAJ: Do you compose on guitar? With other people?

RA: I do compose eighty percent of the material on the guitar. It probably doesn't sound that way because I've learned to manipulate music in general, so the guitar becomes a tool rather than the end result. I usually can't play an entire composition on the guitar although there are those tunes that can be played solo. Sometimes I'll just stare at the page and after singing it a dozen times, use my imagination in order to hear a new section.

AAJ: Do you compose for your side projects?

RA: Sometimes people will want to record my tunes but I don't usually write for side projects unless someone really wants me to.

AAJ: Can you hip us to what you feel are some of your best tunes compositionally, and why?

RA: Honestly, I don't really have any favorites because they're all unique onto themselves. I wouldn't record any tune that I wasn't fully satisfied with- I don't think the world needs more unimaginative records.

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