Rez Abbasi Acoustic Quartet: Intents and Purposes


It is highly likely that no period in jazz history has so thoroughly split opinions on the value and quality of its output as did the decade of the 1970’s. And it was in the realm of amplified, hedonistic jazz-rock, or fusion as it is more commonly known, where that split became most pronounced. Easily derided or, at best, grudgingly admired by those who first and foremost consider jazz an acoustic art form, the fusion genre also continues to elicit strong devotion by others for its avowed technical prowess, scintillating colors, often intense volume and energetic thrust, characteristics more commonly associated with jazz’s popular music brethren.

Bridging that divide, or making it appear more specious than it may be in fact, is the tall task that Rez Abbasi, a recent DownBeat Rising Star Guitarist Poll-winner and veteran of two decades’ standing on the New York jazz scene and beyond, has so successfully completed with his latest release, Intents and Purposes. The album, issued by the Munich-based label Enja Records, is the second to feature Abassi’s “RAAQ” quartet – Rez on guitars, vibraphonist Bill Ware, bassist Stephan Crump and drummer Eric McPherson.

The quartet offers up eight classic fusion tunes penned by the era’s biggest names in electric jazz (several of whom also boast distinguished acoustic pedigrees), reinterpreting each in a completely non-amplified instrumental setting. Abbasi’s new acoustic arrangements appreciably retain the originals’ dynamism while also injecting considerable subtlety – a ‘best-of-all-possible-worlds’ scenario inhabiting the cross-section where jazz fans and lovers of popular music happily intersect.

At nearly two minutes longer in duration than the synth-drenched original, Joe Zawinul’s “Black Market” maintains a sturdy yet loose-limbed and propulsive swing throughout. By contrast, the quartet shaves nearly four minutes off Herbie Hancock’s expansive “Butterfly.” Rez’s use of a fretless steel string guitar lends the track a certain frisson while the quartet, and especially Mr. Ware’s vibes, accentuates the underlying mellow momentum of the original. Pat Martino’s gorgeous, up-tempo “Joyous Lake” is, as might be expected, an Abbasi showcase, with Mr. Ware not far behind. Larry Coryell’s slow-burning “Low-Lee-Tah” finds Rez alone, imaginatively double-tracked, while John McLaughlin’s brief, album-concluding tune “Resolution” becomes a lengthy showcase quartet statement here. These musical transformations work wonders; listeners will come away both surprised and truly elated at the depths plumbed here.

Rez Abbasi Acoustic Quartet (RAAQ) Plays Jazz-Rock Classics