Monday, May 16, 2016

Rez Abbasi and Junction - Behind the Vibration (Cuneiform Records, 2016)

Guitarist Rez Abbasi’s new album takes a fresh look jazz-rock fusion inspired by his own widely varied influences. This album pulls the energy from rock music and has that musical world to collide with a top-notch jazz band consisting of Mark Shim on tenor saxophone and MIDI Wind Controller, Ben Stivers on keyboards and Kenny Grohowski on drums. “Holy Butter” opens the album at a medium-fast tempo that has a rather mild tone. The guitar and drums are at the center of the music, with some spacey electric piano providing atmosphere. Grohowski’s drums drive the piece with swells of percussion met by exciting swathes of electric guitar. There is a sense of ominous warning to “Groundswell” with mysterious dynamics that build and then drop off. Abbasi develops a scarred toned guitar that snarls like a cornered animal and Shim’s saxophone enters in halfway through with a complex solo of tension and release. “Uncommon Sense” opens with the leader’s guitar sounding stark, twisted and exotic. Saxophone and drums slam in hard and then group is off on a very intense improvisation, ripping it up to the fullest and then dropping off once again. There is open space for an exciting saxophone solo, and Shim lets go with great vigor, charging forth with Grohowski’s drums riding point. Sparks of heavy guitar flare up, grinding out a hot solo over powerful drumming before everyone pulls together for a great full band conclusion. The full band comes out strong on “Self-Brewing” with the strange sound of Mark Shim’s MIDI Wind Controller sounding like an overdriven bass guitar. It’s busy and exciting music with electric piano and percussion in continuous motion. Abbasi’s guitar smears light like it is a distant galaxy seen through gravitational lensing. “New Rituals” has the guitar, bass and drums unit in a tight improvising formation with some synth shading the corners. There is a pale and limpid guitar synthesizer sound akin to Pat Metheny, but then a dramatic shift to old school Hammond organ and guitar. The track seems to be showing some of the outlets for the electric guitar in jazz over the decades culminating in a strident tone of guitar over organ and strong drumming. For the culminating song, “Matter Falls,” Shim’s saxophone takes a decidedly darker tone and Abbasi’s guitar emits strong sparks like there is an electrical storm on the horizon. The band pushes hard, making for strong, bracing music that slams you back and forth dynamically and leaves you very impressed with Mark Shim who can switch between groaning wind instrument and soaring saxophone. The music on this album really strives for eclecticism, and while it may be rooted in fusion, it takes a very broad view of what that word means and seeks to reclaim it, shorn of baggage and carry it into the future. Rez Abbasi is very successful on this album in the pulling together and merging of his many diverse interests. The musicians in the band were well chosen for the project and worked together selflessly for a very noteworthy project. Behind the Vibration -

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