Guitarist Rez Abbasi has, until a few years ago, been criminally under the radar. An astonishing technician, he’s got an imaginative range and a multi-genre facility that distinguish him among contemporary players. Thanks in many ways to his association with Rudresh Mahanthappa, his profile his risen in the last half decade. But his own dates have been terrific, and his latest trio release (where he’s joined by bassist John Hebert and drummer Satoshi Takeishi) is a corker.
From the first notes of the mildly processed solo guitar that opens Continuous Beat, I was immediately reminded of Abbasi’s modest tonal debt to John Abercrombie. But his ideas (in terms of both writing and improvising) tend to place him closer to a player like Adam Rogers or Dave Gilmore (no, not that one). Occasionally he’ll admit some tasteful multi-tracking into his repertoire, but it’s usually focused on harmonic expanse rather than mere technique. That’s the general MO for this trio – with bassist John Hebert and drummer Satoshi Takeishi – and it makes for some robust, focus playing throughout.
Some of the most vigorous and sheerly enjoyable tunes are those rooted in pulse. This lock-tight trio digs in eagerly, as when they drop gracefully down into the shifting funk templates of “Divided Attention.” It’s got some nifty stutter-start rhythm work that pushes and pulls the musical momentum throughout, with Abbasi’s modest distortion sounding resoundingly good. In general, he’s thoughtful and restrained player, but when the mood strikes him he can quite casually rip off some long, hold-on-tight lines. It’s not all flexing and grooves, though “Back Skin” has a pleasing lope and the trio’s craggy rhythmic interaction is a pleasure across all these tunes. Over successive listens to Continuous Beat, it’s not actually the beat that impresses so much as the group’s (and especially Abbasi’s) harmonic range. On the fractured, staggered “Rivalry,” it’s easy to be dazzled by his technique, but the ideas he’s dealing have such substance and an impressively compositional sensibility that, coupled with his immense harmonic range, you never feel like you’re listening to a guitar trio as vehicle for chops. Things are more spacious still on the contemplative “Itexture,” which is also a fine feature for the estimable Hebert. And I was tickled by their repertoire choices too: a sprightly reading of Gary Peacock’s “Major Major” (too seldom heard), an unpredictable and quite free romp through Monk’s “Off Minor,” and a lengthy exploration of Keith Jarrett’s “The Cure,” where Abbasi starts out with processed guitar that sounds halfway to a sitar, with ace percussion and that loping, memorable bassline. Over slow and subtle reharmonizations, the piece glows with heat and intensity. The only demerit I could assign would be to the closing solo acoustic reading of the national anthem. But maybe that’s because I’m a curmudgeon. That aside, this is a fine record by an imaginative and exuberant trio.