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Rez Abbasi: Django-shift

Karl Ackermann By

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Rez Abbasi: Django-shift
Django Reinhardt's music is so ubiquitous that it's easy to forget his career was relatively brief. The gypsy guitarist/composer had recorded hundreds of 78s and acetates before he died of a stroke in 1953 at age forty-three. On many early sides, he played a six-string banjo-guitar hybrid tuned in the standard tuning of a guitar. Norman Granz produced the only full LP Reinhardt session two months before the artist passed. Along with over twenty posthumous compilation releases, Nuages (Verve, 1953) was the only recording featuring Reinhart on electric guitar. Like Bob Dylan's 1965 Newport conversion, the transition was blasphemy to many of Reinhard's fans. But his legacy as an acoustic master was already cemented and the album, though very good, went under-recognized. Reinhardt has been the subject of dozens of tribute recordings and has influenced guitarists from Jerry Garcia to Rez Abbasi, who now gives us a highly individualized Django-shift.

Abbasi, a native of Karachi, Pakistan, grew up in Los Angeles with Pat Metheny and Bill Frisell among his main influences. Early in his career, he journeyed to India to study with tabla master Ustad Alla Rakha. He attended USC and Manhattan School of Music studying guitar and percussion. A member of Rudresh Mahanthappa's Indo-Pak Coalition with Dan Weiss, Abbasi has been recording prolifically as a leader, since 1993. His trio on Django-shift includes Neil "Nail" Alexander on organ, electronics and synthesizers and drummer Michael Sarin, who has recorded with Ben Goldberg, Tony Malaby, Tom Rainey, Drew Gress, Simon Nabatov and Max Johnson.

Reinhardt, along with French swing violinist Stephane Grappelli, pioneered gypsy jazz or hot club-style jazz, a blend of Roma and swing musics. Its sound often has more in common with Western swing than traditional jazz styles. Because Reinhardt had two paralyzed fingers on his left hand, he was a tenaciously creative improviser. That characteristic of his playing opens his music to a broad range of interpretations but none like Abbasi's. Opening with "Diminishing" the early proceedings are true to the original but Alexander and Sarin accelerate the piece into hard bop territory before returning to the main theme. "Heavy Artillery" is an opportunity for Abbasi to put his stamp on a Reinhardt number with a smooth fusion reading. His fretless guitar gives just the appropriate level of innovation to the fast-paced "Hungaria."

The two compositions not composed by Reinhardt, but integral to his repertoire, are Saul Chaplin's "Anniversary Song" and Kurt Weill's "September Song." The latter—essentially an Abbasi/Alexander duo—is given a disconcertingly cinematic treatment that Weill would likely have approved. Django-shift is more than a tribute recording; Abbasi finds creative outlets pressed between the scores of Reinhart's originals and he mixes lucidity, sentiment and discord to make the songs his own.

Track Listing

Diminishing; Swing 42; Heavy Artillery; Django’s Castle; Anniversary Song; Cavalerie; Dance Ambiance; Hungaria; September Song.

Personnel

Rez Abbasi: guitar, acoustic; Neil "Nail" Alexander: keyboards; Michael Sarin: drums.

Album information

Title: Django-shift | Year Released: 2020 | Record Label: Whirlwind Recordings

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