Rez Abbasi & Junction – Behind the Vibration – Cuneiform

Guitarist Rez Abbasi’s new band brings fusion to an innovative level.

Rez Abbasi & Junction – Behind the Vibration – Cuneiform, Rune 424, 57:59 [5/20/16] ****:

(Rez Abbasi – guitar, co-mixer; Mark Shim – tenor saxophone, MIDI wind-controller; Ben Stivers – keyboards, B-3, Rhodes; Kenny Grohowski – drums)

Guitarist Rez Abbasi has seemingly worked in every type of jazz and improvisational music imaginable. His solo projects and collaborations (Vijay Iyer and Rudresh Mahanthappa are just two of many) have comprised South Asian jazz fusion, jazz-rock, acoustic and hard electric music, electronica elements integrated with jazz, Indo/Saharan blends, and other diverse and distinct music. Abbasi’s embrace of different genres into a unified whole reaches fresh heights on his latest foray, the hour-long Behind the Vibration, which is the first album with Abbasi’s new quartet, Junction, and also his first release on the Cuneiform label.

Alongside Abbasi is tenor saxophonist Mark Shim (who also adds an electronic MIDI wind-controller). Shim has a few solo CDs to his name and has previously recorded or performed with Greg Osby, Elvin Jones, Mose Allison and Betty Carter. In the drum seat is Kenny Grohowski (credits include John Zorn, John Medeski, and numerous others). Rounding out the foursome is keyboardist Ben Stivers (who utilizes B-3 organ, Rhodes electric piano and other keyboards). Stivers is a seasoned musician who has worked with pop stars such as Gloria Estefan and Ricky Martin to jazz artists such as Donny McCaslin.

Some of the eight tracks (all Abbasi originals) have structures which point to specific jazz genres, but were influenced or inspired by other foundations. For example, the nine-minute opener, “Holy Butter,” sounds like ‘70s fusion, complete with funky bass and shifting surges from the electric guitar and keyboards. But in fact “Holy Butter” came about due to a partnership with South Indian dancers. The South Indian elements are obscured by the amped-up arrangement, which evokes Return to Forever. Another masked component is the bass: there is no bass. The bass sound comes from Shim’s MIDI wind-controller. The absence of a bassist throughout the CD allows Stivers and Shim to alternate the low-end sounds. The hard fusion feel is omnipresent throughout the eight-minute “Groundswell,” (which Abbasi states was stimulated by the Arab Spring) which brings to mind John McLaughlin and Alan Holdsworth. The drums are in continual mobility, while the arrangement has a zigzag melody which is improvised via B3 organ, electric guitar, and most notably Shim’s searing tenor sax. The record’s most overt fusion number is “Self-Brewing,” which includes a duet theme where Shim’s MIDI and Abbasi’s guitar mesh together. Later, Shim rears outward on his Rhodes electric piano, and Abbasi takes a scorching solo which lies somewhere between jazz fusion and hard rock.

Other pieces are more impressionistic, opaque and contextual. The nine-minute “Uncommon Sense” commences with a lengthy, atmospheric guitar intro. The tune’s reposed characteristic then changes as tenor, multifaceted drums, and the aforementioned synth bass twists “Uncommon Sense” into a louder and more abrasive composition. Grohowski’s dexterous drumming and percussion helps power “Uncommon Sense” into an oft-time frantic burst. The briefest cut (at just over three minutes) is the dimly-inflected “And I You,” which has an iridescent, noir-ish nature. The nearly nine-minute “Inner Conflict” balances moodiness with movement. Shim’s bass lines are cool and stoic, while he also supplies milky keyboard contributions which provide a murky undercurrent, plus a sovereign soulfulness via his B-3 organ. Junction conclude with the mid-tempo “Matter Falls,” which touches on South Asian rhythms, but not in an obvious way. During “Matter Falls” there is a sense of intimacy and discord, a juxtaposition of two differing viewpoints approaching and meeting. It’s an exploratory piece which is just one illustration of how Abbasi and his cohorts link, join and coalesce outwardly competing aspects which have an internal connective tissue. There are lots of jazz players who work within fusion, but few are shaping it into distinct areas of improvisation: Rez Abbasi is one who can and does.

TrackList: Holy Butter; Groundswell; Inner Context; Uncommon Sense; And I You; Self-Brewing; New Rituals; Matter Falls

—Doug Simpson

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