Born in Karachi, Pakistan, removed at the age of four to relocate to Southern California, schooled at the University of Southern California and the Manhattan School of Music in jazz and classical music, as well as a pilgrimage in India under the tutorial of master percussionist, Ustad Alla Rakha, Rez Abbasi is a vivid synthesis of all the above stated influences and genres.
Making New York home for the past 18 years, Abbasi has developed a unique sound both as a composer and an instrumentalist and is considered by many to be one of the foremost modern jazz guitar players the world over. He has honed his skills with performances through out Europe, Canada, the U.S., Mexico and India. He has performed and recorded with many jazz greats including, Grammy winner Ruth Brown, Peter Erskine, Kenny Werner, Barre Phillips, Tim Hagans, Marc Johnson, Billy Hart, Marvin ‘Smitty’ Smith, Gary Thomas, Rick Margitza, Dave Douglas, DD Jackson, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Tony Malaby, George Brooks, Pandit Ronu Majumdar, Pandit Kadri Gopalnath, Pandit Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, Marilyn Crispell, Greg Osby, Howard Levy and a host of others.
Rez is musical director and producer for Indian/Canadian Juno award winning vocalist, Kiran Ahluwalia. Kiran’s 2008 recording, “Wanderlust” on the World Connection label, hit the top ten on the European world-music radio charts and also received top ten in Song- Lines Magazine. The group travelled extensively throughout Europe, performing at the London Jazz, Paleo and Sfinks festivals. Rez also plays an integral role in two of saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa’s award winning groups, The Indo-Pak Coalition (Innova) and Kinsmen (PI). Kinsmen placed in 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. The Indo-Pak Coalition recently performed at many festivals including the Montreal Jazz Fest. and Newport Jazz Fest. Rez can also be heard as a member of saxophonist Dave Pietro’s Chakra Group (Challenge Records), Sandro Dominelli trio among many others.
With seven albums of original compositions under his belt, Abbasi continues to garner new groups of musicians to help his musical vision come to life. His 2005 recording Snake Charmer, has 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. Coltrane, Ellington and Gillespie all immersed themselves into music from around the world and then brought it back home. If I have that kind of unifying affect, I’ve succeeded!”
Rez Abbasi’s sixth album, Things To Come (2009) is yet another leap into uncharted 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. The same year he was also awarded the prestigious Chamber Music America Grant as a commission to compose new works for this ensemble. These works will be premiered in late 2010 -11 and will be recorded for a 2011 release.
At the end of 2009, Abbasi formed a new quartet. The Rez Abbasi Acoustic Quartet, or RAAQ, was conceived for the purposes of featuring Abbasi’s 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), was the right choice. RAAQ’s debut, Natural Selection (Sunnyside, 9/21/10) captures the profound sensitivity of the ensemble as it twists and turns through the set. Compositions as Abbasi’s “Up On The Hill” (dedicated to pianist, Andrew Hill) or Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s, “Lament”, feature the standout textural cascades created between acoustic guitar and vibraphone. Add the warmth of double bass and the shimmer of cymbals and drums, and you have a group-sound different than any other today.