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Rez Abbasi Acoustic Quartet: Intents and Purposes

The conceit behind Intents and Purposes is a nifty one: seminal fusion tunes, rendered in the gentler textures of acoustic guitar (Rez Abbasi), vibraphone (Bill Ware), bass (Stephan Crump) and drums (Eric McPherson). Abbasi’s Acoustic Quartet makes its point handily in one track: Return to Forever’s “Medieval Overture,” one of the era’s most obnoxious recordings. Here, layers and layers of sound (and bombast) fall away, revealing an impressive composition that glows within Abbasi and Ware’s interplay. Even McPherson’s long drum solo, based in timbral variation, outdoes the original.

Not that the rest of the album is redundant; most of it is even better. “There Comes a Time” makes swing out of the Tony Williams Lifetime acid-rock jam, with Abbasi’s easy bends and Ware’s quiet fills making Lifetime seem oddly labored in comparison. “Black Market” tones down Weather Report’s funk to emphasize airy lyricism instead. “Red Baron” does the opposite, maintaining Billy Cobham’s good-time groove even with much subtler contributions all around (especially from McPherson, who’s smart and engaging without Cobham’s busyness). Virtuosity, too, persists despite subtlety, whether in four-way interactions like “Butterfly,” or in solos like Ware’s sumptuous syncopation on Pat Martino’s “Joyous Lake.” Abbasi has a remarkable fretless line on “Butterfly” and a gorgeous, unaccompanied baritone-guitar performance (with an English folk redolence) of Larry Coryell’s “Low-Lee-Tah.” Intents and Purposes is one of the first great records of 2015.

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