In his brief note accompanying this album Behind the Vibration Rez Abbasi informs us that the music of this quartet may be heard – albeit at different times and ‘in different settings’ – from pop and heavy metal to sub-Saharan music jazz and more. But then he goes on to posit that the reality is more than the sum of the parts; or, as one may assume, the sum of those parts. And he is right in suggesting that this is the ‘music of now’. This psycho-philosophical weft is woven into the warp of the music that forms a tapestry in which the immediacy of this music resides. Too cerebral, one might assume, to make this music accessible. But that assumption would be at loggerheads with the reality as evident from the music on this disc.
True the music is more inward-looking if the titles of the songs – and yes, they are songs – is anything to go by. Again, that assumption might be made before the recording is actually listened to for the first time. Even a first-listen will knock any presumptions on the head. The whimsical titled songs are actually witty (‘Holy Butter’), honest to the point of being truisms (Uncommon Sense’), perplexing (‘And I You’), wondrous (‘Self-Brewing’) and even portentous (New Rituals’). The musical language is far from Babel-like. And while each song is expressed in a myriad of artful metaphor in a breathtaking sweep of sonic topography, the musical language is beholden to no known style and flies in the face of all convention. Much of this has to do with the compositions by Rez Abbasi. They are mesmerising, as mysterious as the East; which is, more than a geographical fact, a characteristic embedded in the very nature of their composer. But there is also this:
Rez Abbasi’s sonic world is unique, so singular that he sounds like no other guitarist past or present. Try the harmonium that accompanies ‘qawwali’ musicians during a mushaira (performance) that morphs into a ‘veena’ and then into a ‘sitar’ during an Indian musical event, which suddenly disappears in a puff of smoke and is replaced by the echo of a kalimba and a kora. His intonation is informed by sinuous, rounded notes, played on scales that suggest a deep influence of sub-continental musical systems. The high and lonesome howl of wind echoes in the after-burners seemingly affixed to the fingers of his left hand as they fly across the fretboard, while those of his right hand seem to barely caress the strings. The magical sound of music does not stop there.
Saxophonist Mark Shim has always been a musician fond of adventurous flights of fancy. Abbasi’s compositions here are just the right kind of fuel to ignite the itinerant spirit in him. Shim’s phrases emerge like furtive will-o-the-wisps from his tenor saxophone. He adds a rarefied, mythic dimension to the music, which plays off Abbasi’s guitar and Ben Stiver’s battery of keyboards, B3 organ and Rhodes. By now and with the surrealist lines and tonal colours that Stivers brings to the music we find ourselves moving further afield of the known melodic and harmonic morphological events of the known universe. It is only the visceral drumming of Kenny Grohowski that keep us rooted to the ground. But only barely so…
Track List: Holy Butter; Groundswell; Inner Context; Uncommon Sense; And I You; Self-Brewing; New Rituals; Matter Falls.
Personnel: Rez Abbasi: guitar & compositions; Mark Shim: tenor saxophone & midi wind-controller; Ben Stivers: keyboards, Hammond B3 organ & Fender Rhodes; Kenny Grohowski: drums.
Label: Cuneiform Records
Release date: May 2016
Running time: 58:30