Voted #1 Rising-Star Guitarist in the 2013 DownBeat Critics Poll and subsequently placed in the “Top-Ten Guitarists” alongside luminaries Bill Frisell and Pat Metheny, guitarist and composer Rez Abbasi is one of the most original voices on the current scene.
Born in Karachi, Pakistan, removed at the age of four to the vastness of Southern California, schooled at the University of Southern California and the Manhattan School of Music in jazz and classical music, along with a pilgrimage in India under the guidance of master percussionist, Ustad Alla Rakha, Rez Abbasi is a vivid synthesis of all the above stated influences and genres. Making New York home for the past 25 years, Abbasi is considered by many to be one of the foremost modern jazz guitar players the world over. He has honed his skills with performances throughout Europe, Canada, the U.S., Mexico and India and has performed and recorded with many jazz greats including, Grammy winner Ruth Brown, Peter Erskine, Kenny Werner, Barre Phillips, Tim Berne, Michael Formanek, Billy Hart, Gary Thomas, Dave Douglas, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Mike Clark, Tim Hagans, John Beasly, Ronu Majumdar, Kadri Gopalnath, Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, Vijay Iyer, Marilyn Crispell, Greg Osby, Howard Levy and a host of others.
With 14 albums of mostly original compositions under his belt, Abbasi continues to find new groups of musicians to help his musical vision come to life. His 2005 recording Snake Charmer, created a stir in the music world partly due to his organic, original approach in blending two complex musical genres together, namely jazz and Indian music. The provocative instrumentation of organ, drums and guitar alongside Indian vocalist Kiran Ahluwalia, is on one hand, a sound grounded in jazz and yet uncommon in jazz arenas. 20th Century Guitar reviewed the CD as, “One of the best examples yet of how to merge Indian Classical music with jazz…Snake Charmer really breaks new ground.” In 2007, Rez achieved even greater heights with the follow up to Snake Charmer, Bazaar. Bazaar continues the group’s journey through territories unheard in today’s jazz/world music scene.
Abbasi’s sixth album, Things To Come (Sunnyside, 2009) is yet another leap into unchartered musical territory. It features a star-studded group of Vijay Iyer, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Kiran Ahluwalia, Johannes Weidenmueller and Dan Weiss and was included in DownBeat’s top CD’s of the decade. The same year he was awarded the prestigious Chamber Music America Grant as a commission to compose new works for the same ensemble, Invocation. At the end of 2009, Abbasi formed a new quartet. The Rez Abbasi Acoustic Quartet, or RAAQ, was conceived for the purposes of featuring Abbasi’s acoustic guitar talents. Simultaneously, it serves as an outlet to feature his compositions alongside “gems from other composers that are rarely heard today.” Abbasi was well aware of creating a group that would magnify and enhance his acoustic guitar sound – calling upon vibraphonist, Bill Ware (Steely Dan), bassist, Stephan Crump (Vijay Iyer Trio) and drummer, Eric McPherson (Andrew Hill). RAAQ’s debut, Natural Selection (Sunnyside, 2010) captures the profound sensitivity of the ensemble as it twists and turns through the set, featuring the standout textural cascades created between acoustic guitar and vibraphone. The album was included in JazzTimes’ and NPR’s ‘best of’ the year lists and the New York Times did a feature review of the CD release concert. RAAQ performed at the 2010 Newport Jazz Festival which was recorded and broadcasted several times on NPR’s JazzSet with Dee Dee Bridgewater.