Voted #2 Rising Star Guitarist in 2012 Down Beat International Critics Poll
Inventive guitarist Rez Abbasi takes the pulse of the modern guitar trio on his ninth album, Continuous Beat. Embracing the use of electronics and effects to broaden his sonic palette to a much further extent than he ever has in the past, Abbasi evolves the scope and range of possibilities of the traditional guitar/bass/drums format far beyond its apparent limitations.
“People often think of the jazz guitar trio and relate it to all things historical,” Abbasi says. “That’s not to say that the Jim Hall trio records aren’t some of my favorite albums of all time. But it’s 2012 now and we’ve heard a lot of purely ‘warm’ guitar trio albums. I wanted to stimulate the listener’s aural perception throughout the album – to give them a sense of textural surprise from start to finish that embodies both that warmth and the desire to push away from the commonplace.”
The occasion for Abbasi’s first ever trio release was his discovery of the very special chemistry between himself, bassist John Hebert, and drummer Satoshi Takeishi. He has known and played with both for over fifteen years, but their uniting as a trio was a fortunate accident brought about by unfortunate circumstances.
In late 2011, Abbasi was looking forward to performing for the first time with one of his musical heroes, the legendary drummer Paul Motian. He had composed a number of new pieces for the date, which was to be a trio with Hebert. Unfortunately, a week before the gig Motian was forced to cancel due to the health issues that would lead to his passing last November.
Instead of canceling the date altogether, however, Abbasi tapped Takeishi to step in, knowing the Japanese-born drummer’s openness would mesh well with pieces composed with Motian in mind. “I knew Paul’s playing intimately from recordings and seeing him live multiple times,” Abbasi says. “I felt this was a good opportunity to write a few tunes with his character in mind, the operative description being ‘complexity within simplicity.’ In other words, music that was comfortable enough to play without a rehearsal, yet stimulating enough to create an interactive trio sound. That seems to encapsulate his aesthetic.”
Two of those pieces feature on Continuous Beat, whose title acknowledges the “immortality of great artists” like Motian, Abbasi explains. With Motian’s death, the album became something of a loose tribute and includes pieces from two composers associated with the drummer: Gary Peacock’s “Major Major” and Keith Jarrett’s “The Cure.” The trio also offers an evanescent arrangement of Thelonious Monk’s “Off Minor,” a Motian favorite.
“Paul’s life galvanized this project,” Abbasi says, “but then it went further from there.” The disc begins with the solo “Intro,” which offers a key to the album’s transformation of Abbasi’s approach. The piece is based on an Indian raga that the Pakistani-born guitarist has played often, but by using a reverse delay the material is mutated into something alien and unpredictable that Abbasi can play against, almost a duo with himself.
That piece is bookended with Abbasi’s warm yet melancholy solo rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner,” which closes the CD. “Recording that was kind of cathartic in the sense that being an American at this point in history can be confusing, especially when you were born in Pakistan,” he says. “The question of ‘what it means’ arises given the climate of terrorism, the state of the union, the economy, immigration, et cetera. So I essentially tried to put the beauty back into my faith, although I’m not a ‘patriotic’ type at all. The melody has so much energy behind it that it simply felt right to do a modern day version with modern harmony.”
Another meaning behind the album’s title came out of the fact that at the same time that Abbasi was mixing the session, his mother-in-law was undergoing triple bypass surgery. Alternating between the ER and the studio “was strange and emphasized the vitality of the heart,” he says. That vital heartbeat is evident in the trio’s interactions as soon as they appear on “Divided Attention” and is maintained throughout Continuous Beat.
Both “Rivalry” and “iTexture” were written with Motian in mind, the latter also being a tribute to Apple founder Steve Jobs following his death. “Back Skin” is a piece built on an Indian form that Abbasi has explored in different fashion in saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa’s Indo-Pak Coalition.
In projects like that trio and throughout his own work, Abbasi continually explores the conjunction between jazz and South Asian music. The guitarist moved to the US from Karachi, Pakistan at the age of four and went on to study at the University of Southern California and the Manhattan School of Music. He studied Indian music with a disciple of Ravi Shankar and performed and recorded with jazz greats including Billy Hart, Dave Douglas, Marilyn Crispell and Greg Osby. His own music has fused those two sounds in intriguing and surprising ways throughout his nine releases.
Most important on this latest album for Abbasi was the chance to reconnect in such an intimate fashion with two longtime collaborators. “We’ve always had a connection,” he says of his triomates, “partly due to the way we interact as humans, partly due to what our vision of what music can be, and partly due to our unspoken telepathy. As jazz musicians we tend to move forward and make new relationships but there also comes a time to look back at some of our more meaningful relationships.”
Release Date: October 9, 2012
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