Rez Abbasi & Junction – Behind The Vibration (2016)

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feature photo: John Rogers

When thinking of the most restless, constantly innovating guitarists performing today — Metheny, Frisell, Scofield, Cline, Halvorson — you have to include Rez Abassi in that company. This Pakistani-born American musician has been a leader in shaping Subcontinent jazz, first as part of Rudresh Mahanthappa’s Indo-Pak Coalition and Kinsman ensembles and later leading his own South Asian supergroup Mahanthappa and Vijay Iyer. He also took a fresh look at acoustic jazz (Natural Selection, Intents and Purposes) and brought the vanguard ideas of Paul Motian forward (SER Best of 2012 selection Continuous Beat). These are just a handful of areas where Abbasi has made his mark, and with each new vista he enters, he brings a splendid guitar technique and a boundless prowess as a composer.

Many of Abbasi’s areas of artistry come converging together on Behind The Vibration, his debut for Cuneiform Records, introducing yet another new ensemble tailored to advance his newest ideas. That’s Junction, a bass-less quartet comprising of Abbasi, Mark Shim on tenor sax & MIDI wind-controller, Ben Stivers on keyboards, B3 & Rhodes and Kenny Growhowski on drums.

On “Holy Butter” the low pulse comes not always from a synth but Shim’s MIDI Wind Controller. Barely a minute into the song we’re already treated to Abbasi’s improv skills, portraying and distilling the opposing languages of Pat Martino and Alan Holdsworth and many more down to a language all his own. Later, he joins seamlessly with Shim’s MIDI run mid-stream and Stivers soon afterwards emerges with a Rhodes and solos with funky feel. As the band goes into neutral on a new pattern, Grohowski lets loose on his own furious solo.

What becomes clear from this opening salvo is that everything the Abbasi pulls into his stew — rock, Indian, funk — are really means to an end, and that’s progressive jazz as articulated by Abbasi. To get there, he uses it all: insight, technique, composition and his diversely talented band. Accordingly, “Groundswell” is open, elusive and kind of modal; it’s rock-jazz on the surface and sophisticated modern jazz under the hood. That becomes most apparent with Shim’s smoldering sax solo.

“Inner Context” puts out the fire of the first two tracks with a ruminative piece, Abbasi’s full-toned guitar setting the subdued but complex mood and Stivers’ Jack McDuff organ providing the soul. “Uncommon Sense” is calm and contemplative, too, during Abbasi’s a capella intro. That is, until Growhowski comes crashing in with a wickedly dense drum ‘n’ bass pattern on his kit, providing a lunching pad for Shim’s tenor flights. Abbasi follows with one that starts slow and menacing and builds up a fire carefully, content that Growhowski supplies much of the energy.

Abbasi and Shim (on that MIDI) combine for interesting harmonics on the theme to “Self Brewing.” As Stivers solos on Rhodes, it’s impossible not to notice that Grohowski is also improvising, threatening to overtake the keyboardist. But in the usual Abbasi fashion, nothing stays in place overlong and they soon move onto a new motif that provides a bed for Abbasi’s arching guitar. The circuitous “New Rituals” is constantly shuffling the melody and rhythm around an elusive core. Shim’s MIDI and Stivers’ B3 in succession provide a stark demonstration of how the tools of improv, old and new, are never as important as the musicians who know how to use them persuasively.

South Indian patterns subtly inform “Matter Falls,” which behind the scenes is anchored by a spidery bass line from Stivers’ keyboard, liberating everyone else and accordingly Abbasi and Shim in succession hand down precise, sinewy solos and wrap up the song together on the ending chorus.

Behind The Vibration is a typical Rez Abbasi album in the sense that when you think he’s about to run out of ideas and start repeating himself, he’ll come out with something fresh and stimulating that builds upon what he’s made before. Other than that, well, there’s nothing typical about this record at all. At this Junction, Abbasi belonging in that elite group of guitarist composers/leaders is an open and shut case.

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on,, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at
S. Victor Aaron
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