Wildly acclaimed NYC-based guitarist Rez Abbasi brings his quartet Junction to Natalie’s Coal-Fired Pizza on Friday, July 27th at 10pm (tickets here). I was lucky to speak with Abbasi by phone and that conversation along with video and audio are below.
For the last 20 years, Rez Abbasi has been honing a singular, unmistakable voice on the electric guitar and writing some of the strongest, most malleable compositions in contemporary music. His 2011 appearance at the Wexner Center, with the larger group Invocation, was my first exposure to Abbasi and left a deep impression. Everything I’ve checked out of his since, live at Winter Jazz Fest in New York or on record, has deepened that initial understanding and drawn me closer.
Abbasi told me, “Junction started as a response to my RAAQ band, the Rez Abbasi Acoustic Quartet. I grew up playing in rock bands but when I got into jazz, I went to straight jazz – I didn’t want that rock feeling in my jazz. So I overlooked most of the 70s fusion. On the road, people turned me on to a lot of fusion but I had a hard time with the textural and tonal qualities. There was amazing writing, but it didn’t connect because of sounds. So I started an acoustic group to play the best of those compositions.”
He continued, “After that, I wanted to do my version of this – with electronics – on my original material. What’s my interpretation of this? Junction was my way of finding out, writing something listenable but designed complexly. I generally write toward the composition, for the sake of writing. I might open the book and realize something written earlier is perfect for the group I’m working with.”
Abbasi said the original quartet (on the 2016 album) fell into place as he pondered the concept. “Everybody I hire, they all have original voices on their instruments. Whatever I bring to them comes out with a lot of character. Mark Shim was one of my favorite saxophone players. A great player plus very well-versed in electronics and also known for his MIDI Wind Instrument playing. I knew he was right for this.”
On the rhythm section, “I had a standing organ trio/quartet and when Ben Stivers subbed for my usual organ player, I was very impressed by how well he handled the music. He has a personal connection to electronics and a variety of keyboard sounds. Kenny Grohowski’s control over the drum set, his groove, and his feel, were key to that record.”
The Junction band has toured little since their recent (2016) record Behind the Vibration. “A good friend of mine is running the Winona Jazz Festival outside of Indianapolis and he really wanted this band. I joked, ‘You don’t want something I’ve already got music lined up for and I’m playing all the time?’ But I love any chance to bring Junction on the road. For this tour, Mark Shim is with me and two other great players. Marko Churnchetz is on keys, Mark [Shim] played with him including on his record Devotion. And we’ve got Cliff Almond on drums.”
Abbasi always has a variety of projects at hand and when I spoke to him he gave me a taste of his dizzying schedule. “I’ve got a book coming out on Hal Leonard, New Dimensions in Jazz Guitar. I found that process interesting. As I reread it, the editing process drove me nuts, but I saw how important it is to read something as though for the first time. I’m putting out a film score for an Indian silent film, an hour and fourteen minutes. I’d like to tour that as more of a multimedia work. I’m touring Europe and playing the Newport Jazz Festival with Rudresh Mahanthappa. I produced and arranged my wife Kiran Aluwahlia’s record 7 Billion.”
Don’t miss one of the world’s finest jazz guitarists and composers tackling this thorny, intriguing material in one of Columbus’ best listening rooms.