Rez Abbasi, Modern Memory (CD, 61:13); Cathexis 93-0003-2, 1998 Cathexis Records Phone: 888-635-6392 Cyberhome: www.cathexisrecords.com A few things are made clear by this recording: Guitarist Rez Abbasi has formidable chops, writes really good tunes, picks great musicians, and is a talent to watch out for. The core of the lineup on Modern Memory is Abbasi on electric and acoustic guitars, Michael Formanek on double bass, and Tony Moreno on drums. On several selections, Gary Thomas joins on tenor (and flute), Tim Hagans on trumpet, and Scott Whitfield on trombone. The horns work well together, especially on the head of "Third Ear." Thomas solos powerfully on "Next Year," "Rise Above," and "Monk's Dream," and his flute on "Every Sunday" is beautiful. I don't love how the tenor is recorded, however - a bit heavy on the reverb and not that warm. Hagans is featured on "Blu Vindaloo" and "Third Ear." Whitfield does not solo on the record, but his trombone adds subtle colors to "Next Year" and a lot of bottom to "Third Ear." The most arresting feature on the CD is Abbasi's acoustic guitar. The opener, "Série De Arco" by Brazilian composer Hermeto Pascoal, is a tour de force featuring a trio texture you just don't hear that often: single-note acoustic guitar, double bass, and drums, with no comping instrument. A fast eighth-note melody with intricate meter changes begins the tune. Once the melody is stated the trio breaks down to a slow, burning swing, with Abbasi improvising crisp, flawless single-note lines on his acoustic. Too often acoustic guitar is brought in for a mellow, syrupy sweet sound. Abbasi plays his with power and grit. The trio interplay is hot, the harmonic field wide open. The head-spinning melody comes back to end it. This is a brilliant way to begin the album. Abbasi shows finesse as a producer by putting it first. Acoustic guitar is also featured on "Modern Memory," parts one, two, and three. Each of these short group improvisations is inspired in turn by Abbasi's main jazz influences: John Coltrane, Jim Hall, and Keith Jarrett. The Trane tribute is a busy rubato rumbler; the piece for Jim Hall is dark yet calm, with ear-catching atonal harmonies; and the Jarrett homage is a gradual crescendo building to a lyrical melody that sounds like something Keith might have improvised himself. Everywhere it appears, Abbasi's acoustic guitar is uncommonly rich and round, a signature sound that he ought to continue developing. His electric playing is no less brilliant, but it strikes me as a shade more imitative. Abbasi is working within the contemporary framework of Scofield, Metheny, and Frisell, and sometimes these influences are too apparent. He experiments with distortion and digital whammy effects, some of which are quite fresh and interesting. But he'll need to keep exploring these sounds in order to make them more his own. When playing sans effects, Abbasi shows strong signs of developing an original sound, especially on "Next Year." His double-time lines on "Monk's Dream" show his dazzling technical facility, as do his licks at the end of "Rise Above." Articulation on the guitar doesn't get much cleaner than this. But nothing else on the record matches the sublimity of the acoustic guitar solos on "Série De Arco" and "Every Sunday." As much as I appreciate Abbasi's ability to vary his sonic and instrumental landscape, I hope he'll feature more of his acoustic guitar in the future. ~David R. Adler
Rez Abbasi, Third Ear (CD, 62:23); Cathexis 93-0004-2, 1998 Cathexis Records Phone: 888-635-6392 Cyberhome: www.cathexisrecords.com Third Ear was recorded in 1991 and 1992 and released on the Ozone label in 1995. It's been remastered and repackaged for Abbasi's current label, Cathexis. Despite its slightly dated content, the disc demonstrates that nearly a decade ago, Abbasi was already a player and composer to be reckoned with. He also knew all the right people-saxophonists Billy Drewes and Bob Mintzer; pianists Russ Lossing, Kenny Werner, and Marc Copland; bassists Scott Colley and Marc Johnson; drummers Ben Perowsky and Peter Erskine, and percussionists Jamey Haddad and Satoshi Takeishi. While Abbasi's current release, Modern Memory, flirts with avant-garde and free jazz, this one bears some of the marks of late 80s-early 90s fusion. Abbasi sprinkles guitar synthesizer here and there. Copland lays down sustained synth pillows on three tracks. "Resonance," the opener, is a bit heavy on the Berkleeisms and finds Perowsky sounding surprisingly like Dave Weckl. There's a faint whiff of the Metheny Group on the ballad "Memorial Daze"; sparkling solos by Drewes and Werner give it a much-needed edge. But despite some of the dated and derivative elements, an unfailing sense of swing prevails. Copland brims with passion on acoustic piano during the waltz "Mood Sketch," while the leader solos with particular brilliance on "Sheets of Rain," phrasing a lot like Metheny but employing a much brighter tone and a harder attack. His acoustic guitar lights up the winding melody of "Prana" and his solo on the closer, "A Passage for You," which strongly recalls John Scofield's "Still Warm" (Gramavision, 1986). Mintzer gets busy on soprano during the double-time portion of "Third Ear" and plays tenor on "Mood Sketch." Erskine spices up "For the Birds and the Bees" with a cool, unorthodox groove. The title track, "Third Ear," is a bit more "inside" than the version that appears on Modern Memory. Whereas the later version features multiple horns on the melody, here Abbasi uses a harmonized guitar synth patch to create an analogous effect. Listening to both takes back to back, one can gain insight into what Abbasi was going for back in 1992, and how he pulled it off in 1998. Re-releasing this fine record was a good call. It does Abbasi justice all around, showcasing not only his playing and writing, but also his artistic development over the course of the 90s. ~David R. Adler
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