Always talented, Pakistani-born guitarist Rez Abbasi is a skilled musician who’s really come into his own recently as not merely an instrumental whiz, but as a complete artist. Witness, for instance, the Qawwali-inspired jazz music he’s been making with Rudresh Mahanthappa and Vijay Iyer in the Abbasi-led Indo-Pak supergroup Invocation. For his next trick, Abbasi leads the stilted trio format for the first time on record. But it’s a trio on his terms, following some guiding principles set forth by innovative trios, like, say the Evans/LaFaro/Motian trio that made the bass and drums equal partners with the lead instrument. Paul Motian, as discussed here and elsewhere, took that idea even further as a solo artist and sideman for Keith Jarrett and Paul Bley.
Motian’s overriding approach of what Abbasi so accurately identifies as “complexity within simplicity” set the broad parameters of Abbasi’s trio approach for the upcoming Continuous Beat, and the late, great Motian was unavoidably on his mind during the making of this record. Abbasi was to gig with Motian in a trio with John Hebert in late 2011 when the master percussionist fell ill and died soon afterwards. The guitarist, who had even composed some songs with Motian in mind, decided to press ahead with the planned dates, filling in the big shoes behind the drum kit with Satoshi Takeishi. This is the trio Abbasi soon afterwards brought into the studio to record Continuous Beat.
The title of this album can be thought to mean Takeishi continuing with the unconventional beat making left behind by Motian. In this case, the beat might be “continuous,” but it’s always changing, transmuting, adapting to the fluid harmony, and indeed, even becoming an agent for altering the harmonics.
On “Divided Attention,” as elsewhere, Abbasi lets his rhythm section lay down the foundation and dictate the tone and dynamics of the song. Takeishi is very active, taking a staggered path on rhythm, and Abbasi is offering counterpoints to it at first, then moving into shredding mode, and returning to the theme while Takeishi is still making hay, and Hebert bass is sure-footed and muscular. As we find out, Hebert is holding down his role in that manner all throughout.
Abbasi reveals his inner Frisell on Gary Peacock’s “Major Major,” and then his rock fusion side comes out on “Rivalry,” a wildly veering song that Motian would have loved, as this was one of the tunes Abbasi had written with him in mind. “iTexture” was also intended for Motian, but this more introspective composition ended up being a tribute to the late Steve Jobs, too. Hebert’s poetic bass gives the song its somber character.
Another cover, “The Cure,” is one of Keith Jarrett’s better groove songs, and Abbasi’s treatment of it makes this track the high moment of the whole album. He commences things with more backward delay, setting the ominous tone of the song. Hebert’s repeating figure is the entire main melody, but Abbasi nails Jarrett’s odd chords that make up the theme, and Takeishi is once again practically soloing right alongside Abbasi. Abbasi again leverages effects to kick off another cover, Thelonious Monk’s “Off Minor.” As the rhythm section is flow freely, Abbasi stays only loosely tethered to the melody until almost the end.
The album starts and finishes with Abbasi alone but in completely different moods. “Introduction” is adept at the reverse delay, makes it sound almost, well, raga-ish. “The Star Spangled Banner,” performed only by an acoustic guitar with a few chords altered, connects more with the message underneath than the actual performance. He seems to be driving home the point that this Karachi native who has been living in America since the age of three is just a big of a devotee to the founding principles of this country as any other true-blue American.
And on the American principle of freedom, he practices that on this album with vigor, enthusiasm, and especially, expertise.