Third Ear was recorded in 1991 and 1992 and released on the Ozone label in 1995. It’s been remastered and repackaged for Abbasi’s current label, Cathexis. Despite its slightly dated content, the disc demonstrates that nearly a decade ago, Abbasi was already a player and composer to be reckoned with. He also knew all the right people—saxophonists Billy Drewes and Bob Mintzer; pianists Russ Lossing, Kenny Werner, and Marc Copland; bassists Scott Colley and Marc Johnson; drummers Ben Perowsky and Peter Erskine, and percussionists Jamey Haddad and Satoshi Takeishi.
While Abbasi’s current release, Modern Memory, flirts with avant-garde and free jazz, this one bears some of the marks of late 80s-early 90s fusion. Abbasi sprinkles guitar synthesizer here and there. Copland lays down sustained synth pillows on three tracks. "Resonance," the opener, is a bit heavy on the Berkleeisms and finds Perowsky sounding surprisingly like Dave Weckl. There’s a faint whiff of the Metheny Group on the ballad "Memorial Daze"; sparkling solos by Drewes and Werner give it a much-needed edge.
But despite some of the dated and derivative elements, an unfailing sense of swing prevails. Copland brims with passion on acoustic piano during the waltz "Mood Sketch," while the leader solos with particular brilliance on "Sheets of Rain," phrasing a lot like Metheny but employing a much brighter tone and a harder attack. His acoustic guitar lights up the winding melody of "Prana" and his solo on the closer, "A Passage for You," which strongly recalls John Scofield’s "Still Warm" (Gramavision, 1986). Mintzer gets busy on soprano during the double-time portion of "Third Ear" and plays tenor on "Mood Sketch." Erskine spices up "For the Birds and the Bees" with a cool, unorthodox groove.
The title track, "Third Ear," is a bit more "inside" than the version that appears on Modern Memory. Whereas the later version features multiple horns on the melody, here Abbasi uses a harmonized guitar synth patch to create an analogous effect. Listening to both takes back to back, one can gain insight into what Abbasi was going for back in 1992, and how he pulled it off in 1998.
Re-releasing this fine record was a good call. It does Abbasi justice all around, showcasing not only his playing and writing, but also his artistic development over the course of the 90s.
Track Listing: Resonance, Prana, Memorial Daze, Third Ear, Sheets Of Rain, For The Birds And The Bees, Mood Sketch, A Passage For You
Personnel: Rez Abbasi; Guitars, Synth Guitars: Billy Drewes; Saxes: Russ Lossing; Piano: Scott Colley; Bass: Ben Perowsky; Drums: Jamey Hadda; Percussion: Kenny Werner; Piano: Marc Johnson; Bass: Peter Erskine; Drums: Marc Copeland; Synths: Bob Mintzer; Saxes: Satoshi Takeishi; Percussion.