Guitarist Rez Abbasi is forever in discovery mode, deeply exploring each music style he confronts, from standard acoustic jazz and the South Asian Qawwali and Indian classical traditions of his youth to 1970s fusion and more. Now, 14 albums into his career as a leader, Abbasi is finally following a path familiar to most jazz guitar players: that of Django Reinhardt. Django-shift is his take on a handful of the brilliant Belgian-born Romani-French jazz guitarist’s compositions, accompanied by Neil Alexander on organ and electronics and Michael Sarin on drums. Abbasi doesn’t reinvent Reinhardt’s wheel; instead, he places the scent of the old master in fresh bottles.
Using a variety of acoustic guitars against Alexander’s electronics, Abbasi coats both well-known and more obscure Reinhardt pieces—including “Heavy Artillery,” “Cavalerie,” and “Douce Ambiance”—with an irresistible layer of sweetness, offering an homage that’s captivating and deeply resonant. Song treatments range from straight-ahead (“Hungaria”) and fusion-inflected (“Diminishing,” “Swing 42”) to beautifully balladic (“Django’s Castle”).
Abbasi’s tribute to Reinhardt is so spot-on and sensitive that he outshines his bandmates to a huge degree. One can’t help wishing for them to disappear so that the guitarist can delve deeper, without the keyboard sound effects and often out-of-place rhythms. The exquisite purity of his playing begs for more focus; let’s hope that he continues to investigate Reinhardt’s work, perhaps with a trio more firmly rooted in acoustic jazz.