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Born in Pakistan and raised in the USA since the age of 3, guitarist Rez Abbasi is bona fide “jazz guitarist”, who displays characteristics that pay homage to traditional and modern jazz art-forms. However, Abbasi’s long standing interest in East Indian classical and popular music may subliminally lend itself to his sometimes-unorthodox phrasing, distinct harmonic construction and kaleidoscopic musical approach. On Modern Memory Abbasi demonstrates his ability to perform within the inside and is equally comfortable shedding some outside licks along with stellar support from some of jazz’ best and brightest.
The opener, “Serie De Arco” is a composition by famed Brazilian musician Hermeto Pascoal’s. Here, Abbasi performs difficult single note leads on acoustic guitar, which also introduces his highly charged rhythm section consisting of superstar bassist Michael Formanek and drummer of choice, Tony Moreno. On this piece, Abbasi leads the band through a slick samba yet shifts gears into a medium-tempo swing motif. Besides world-beating technical chops, Abbasi emits an air of confidence in his playing. On “Modern Memory 1”, Abbasi again utilizes his nylon stringed acoustic guitar and toggles between mainstream and off-center style lyricism. Abbasi turns up the heat on “Blu Vindaloo” as he switches over to his electric guitar, perhaps rekindling memories of his hard rock days for his brash, high-octane chord progressions and rapid, yet resonant single note leads. On this piece, trumpeter and modern jazz stylist Tim Hagans solos over the top as this composition features shifting meters, clever articulations and intense heated soloing from Abbasi and Hagans. Abbasi’s combination of subtle distortion techniques and sinewy yet harmonically motivated phrasing on electric guitar makes for captivating listening. Combined with his at times unusual or surprising delivery Abbasi displays a conspicuously personalized style. “Third Ear” is a scorcher which evolves into a free-jazz romp featuring rich thematic development as this piece gives credence to that old saying........”Expect the Unexpected”. Rez and Gary Thomas get some more solo space on the band’s straight-ahead rendition of Thelonius Monk’s “Monk’s Dream”.
Rez Abbasi is a talented chap! Clever songwriting, total command of his guitar and strong support from a revved up ensemble make for an enjoyable and thoroughly intriguing listening experience. Modern Memory given the proper exposure, should open many doors for this exciting stylist! * * * * 1/2
Personnel: Rez Abbasi; Guitars: Gary Thomas; Tenor Sax, Flute: Tim Hagans; Trumpet: Michael Formanek; Acoustic Bass: Tony Moreno; Drums/Percussion: Scott Whitfield; Trombone.
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.