Born in Karachi, Pakistan, removed at the age of four to the vastness of Southern California, schooled at the University of Southern California and the Manhattan School of Music in jazz and classical music, along with a pilgrimage in India under the tutelage of master percussionist, Ustad Alla Rakha, Rez Abbasi is a vivid synthesis of all the above stated influences and genres.
Making New York his home for the past 20 years, Abbasi has developed a unique sound both as a composer and an instrumentalist. He is considered by many to be one of the foremost modern jazz guitar players the world over. Since graduating from the Manhattan School of Music, Rez has honed his skills with performances throughout Europe, Canada, the U.S., Mexico and India. He has performed and recorded with many including, Grammy winner Ruth Brown, Peter Erskine, Kenny Werner, Barre Phillips, TIm Berne, Marc Johnson, Billy Hart, Gary Thomas, Dave Douglas, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Mike Clark, Tony Malaby, George Brooks, Ronu Majumdar, Kadri Gopalnath, Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, Marilyn Crispell, Greg Osby, Howard Levy and a host of others.
Among Abbasi’s activities are musical director, arranger and producer for Indian/Canadian Juno award winning vocal sensation, Kiran Ahluwalia. Kiran’s 2008 recording, Wanderlust, was in the top ten European world-music radio charts and also was among the top ten albums of 2008 in the premiere world music magazine, Song-Lines. Her follow up, Aam Zameen (2011) features the Grammy winning Touareg group Tinariwen and garnered the 2011 Juno Award. Another of Abbasi’s highly regarded associations is with heralded saxophonist and composer, Rudresh Mahanthappa. Rez plays an integral role in Mahanthappa’s Indo-Pak Coalition (Innova) and Kinsmen Ensemble (PI). Kinsmen’s album placed in over twenty top ten list’s for 2008. As a result, Rez was interviewed by NPR’s “All Things Considered”, Rolling Stone Magazine India and featured in the New York Times. Rez can also be heard in a variety of other projects.
With ten albums of mostly original compositions under his belt, Rez Abbasi continues to find new groups of musicians to help his musical vision come to life. His 2005 recording Snake Charmer, created a stir in the music world partly due to his organic, original approach in blending two complex musical genres together, namely jazz and Indian music. The provocative instrumentation of organ, drums and guitar alongside Indian vocalist Kiran Ahluwalia, is on one hand a sound grounded in jazz and yet uncommon in jazz arenas. 20th Century Guitar reviewed the CD as, “One of the best examples yet of how to merge Indian Classical music with jazz…Snake Charmer really breaks new ground.” In 2007, Rez achieved even greater heights with the follow up to Snake Charmer, Bazaar.
Bazaar continues the groups journey through uncharted territory and achieves results unparalleled in today”s jazz/world music scene. Abbasi’s musical philosophy states, “To create a global-based music steeped in jazz is my goal. In this way, I’m following in the footsteps of some of the greatest jazz musicians, such as Coltrane, Ellington and Gillespie.
Abbasi’s sixth album, Things To Come (Sunnyside, 2009) is yet another leap into unchartered musical territory. It features a star studded group of Vijay Iyer, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Kiran Ahluwalia, Johannes Weidenmueller and Dan Weiss and was included in Down Beat’s top CD’s of the decade. Later in the year he was awarded the prestigious Chamber Music America New Works Grant in order to compose new music for the same ensemble, Invocation.
At the start of 2010, Abbasi formed a new quartet. The Rez Abbasi Acoustic Quartet, or RAAQ, was conceived for the purposes of featuring Abbasi’s steel-string acoustic guitar talents. Simultaneously, it serves as an outlet to feature his compositions alongside “gems from other composers that are rarely heard today.” Abbasi was well aware of creating a group that would magnify and enhance his acoustic guitar sound – calling upon vibraphonist, Bill Ware (Jazz Passengers), bassist, Stephan Crump (Vijay Iyer Trio) and drummer, Eric McPherson (Andrew Hill). RAAQ’s debut, Natural Selection (Sunnyside, 2010) captures the profound sensitivity of the ensemble as it twists and turns through the set, featuring the standout textural cascades created between acoustic guitar and vibraphone. The album was included in JazzTimes’ best of the year. RAAQ performed at the 2010 Newport Jazz Festival which was recorded and broadcasted several times on NPR’s JazzSet with Dee Dee Bridgewater.
Abbasi reconvened his group, Invocation in the winter of 2010 to record the follow-up to Things To Come. Suno Suno (Enja, 2011) features his new CMA commissioned compositions that are informed by Qawwali – praise music from Pakistan. The power, joy and depth that Qawwali encompasses can be heard throughout Suno Suno. The album was included on multiple top ten lists of 2011.
As a response to Invocation, with its extended ensemble and highly complex compositions, Abbasi felt the need to do a more intimate project. His new trio was formed and it includes long-time cohorts, bassist John Hebert (Andrew Hill) and drummer Satoshi Takeishi (Eliane Elias). Continuous Beat (Enja, 2012), is Abbasi’s first trio outing and the results are brimming with adventure and subtlety. Along with his cutting edge compositions, the trio reinterprets Thelonious Monk’s, Off Minor, Keith Jarrett’s, The Cure and others, using electronic manipulation on the guitar. As he states. “I wanted to excite the listener with a new guitar trio experience. One that retains the warmth of the established trio sound but also employs electronics in order to expand the timbral pallet, especially for the melodies. Ultimately, this approach not only gives clarity to the solos but also keeps the listener’s aural sense stimulated.”
Voted #2 “Rising Star” guitarist in DownBeat magazine’s 2012’s esteemed Critic’s Poll, and #1 in 2013’s poll, Rez Abbasi’s star is indeed shining bright.