Talking about shifting. American guitarist Rez Abbasi
seems capable of shifting shape and changing form from one project to the next like a creature from a J.R.R. Tolkien adventurealmost beyond recognition. If it weren't for the guitarist's inspired fret fingerings and rushed scale runs giving him his utterly unique spark.
Between much praised quintet recording Unfiltered Universe
(Whirlwind Recordings, 2017) and the Indian-infused collaboration Indo-Pak Coalition comprised of himself, Dan Weiss
and Rudresh Mahanthappa
(Self Produced, 2017), Abbasi has recently been busy recording a variety of atmospheric and cinematic musings for a silent film soundtrack, A Throw Of Dice
, (Whirlwind Recordings 2019) as well as collaborating with the French harpist Isabelle Olivier
on their mostly acoustic duo/trio-venture (percussionists David Paycha
& Prabhu Edouard
(Enja, 2019). The only thing these recordings share in common is the guitarist's original technique and inventive sense for arrangement and instrumentation. On Django-Shift
the fret-acrobat rediscovers a selection of Django Reinhardt
tunesanother pioneering guitarist whose style was and remains unparalleled. Like everything he touches, Abbasi puts a unique spin on eight Reinhardt originals and two additional cuts, one from German-American stage composer Kurt Weill and the other a special treat by Romanian composer Ion Ivanovici.
Most of the Hot-Club jazz and gypsy jazz feeling, which Reinhardt pioneered in and is largely based on a specific rhythmical drive, disappears within the tapestries created by this eclectic trio instrumentation. Performed on acoustic guitar, drums (Michael Sarin
) and a number of different synthesizers, organs and other electronics skillfully mastered by Neil Alexander
, only the melodic roots, harmonic frames and basic structures remain, displaying Reinhardt's gift for composition in an entirely new and modern light.
Abbasi's dry acoustic plucking finds a complementing color in the organ's fat spreads and high-treble timbre on tracks like "Diminishing," "Heavy Artillery" or "Anniversary Song," which build on melodic passages in unison that alternate with dynamic solo sequences bridging over ostinatos. Alexander is like a crazy professor, experimenting with the knobs and buttons of his tools until he finds just the right amount of quirkiness to add over the guitar and drums' acoustic foundation. On "Django's Castle" his attack-less synthesizer swells gently over the quiet ballad, channeling Joe Zawinul
's more extroverted solo output.
The quieter takes belong to Abbasi. With strong emphasis on the percussive faculties of the guitar, on "Cavalerie" or "Douce Ambiance," Abbasi swiftly works his way around the changes with vocabulary that fuses bop language with his own stubborn dialect seamlessly. In the process, this can sound like a battle between finger and string while at the same time resemble the image of a knife cutting through butter. Abbasi and his instrument obviously share a heartbeat.
While "Cavalarie" is as close as the band gets to a classic organ trio sound, "Hungaria" sees Abbasi and his sidemen digging to the roots of gypsy jazz tradition and finds the trio in its most django-esque moment. Abbasi, unsurprisingly, excels at this style, too. On Django-Shift
he not only continues to remain unpredictable but furthermore proves that he can turn just about anything he touches into something special and uniquely his own.
Diminishing; Swing 42; Heavy Artillery; Django’s Castle; Anniversary Song; Cavalerie; Dance Ambiance; Hungaria; September Song.