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Rez Abbasi: Unfiltered Universe

Roger Farbey By

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Rez Abbasi was born in Karachi, Pakistan but at the age of four his family moved to Los Angeles and at eleven he started learning guitar. Whilst there are undoubtedly some South Asian influences in his compositions, these are generally incidental or to be found "under the radar" as Abbasi himself puts it. In any case the music surely transcends geographical boundaries. With a brace of ten albums to his name, this is Abbasi's follow-up to 2016's Behind The Vibration but is also the third in a trilogy he started to record with his group Invocation in 2008.

The opener "Propensity" does admittedly display some passing South Asian influences in its opening statement, and hot on the heels of Rudresh Mahanthappa's frenetic alto solo, Abassi solos with breathtaking glissando runs. The title track, augmented by Elizabeth Mikhael on cello, is perhaps the nearest this album gets to the generally perceived notion of chamber jazz, but even here it defies that generic description. The album was actually commissioned by Chamber Music America and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. Suffice it to say both organizations got their money's worth and more besides.

The short "Thoughts" constitutes a solo pyrotechnic display from Abbasi, his guitar notably enhanced by synth-like electronic effects. "Thin-King" has a mesmeric off-kilter rhythm which propels the piece along and a keen pizzicato bass solo from Johannes Weidenmueller. "Turn Of Events" the longest track on the album at nearly twelve minutes, subtly builds the tension, embellished by legato cello notes, achieving a release with a cascade of notes, only to die down to its pastoral opening and finally resolving in a short ensemble coda. The frenetic paced "Disagree To Agree" benefits from a fine staccato piano solo from Vijay Iyer and Mahanthappa and Abbasi compete in the coruscating stakes, making it compulsive listening as the guitarist takes his instrument to new places ripe for exploration.

The closer, "Dance Number" begins with a vaguely Eastern head but rapidly transmutes into a groove-laden piece dominated by Abbasi's strident and fluid guitar and subsequently by Mahanthappa's florid alto and Iyer's lustrous piano. An imaginative composer and guitarist of considerable virtuosity, plus an ensemble of immense talent, are all factors that make this high calibre album, imbued with unfettered vigour and intrigue, a most satisfying affair.

Track Listing: Propensity; Unfiltered Universe; Thoughts; Thin-King; Turn Of Events; Disagree To Agree; Dance Number.

Personnel: Rez Abbasi: guitar; Vijay Iyer: piano; Rudresh Mahanthappa: alto saxophone; Johannes Weidenmueller: double bass; Dan Weiss: drums; Elizabeth Mikhael: cello.

Title: Unfiltered Universe | Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: Whirlwind Recordings Ltd

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