Rez Abbasi Acoustic Quartet

Intents and Purposes
(Enja)

On the charmingly unassuming Intents and Purposes, guitarist Rez Abbasi and his acoustic quartet pay homage to electric 1970s fusion with an intimate reading of eight standards from the era.

Undulating harmonies and hypnotic vamps form the backbones of these interpretations, while the melodies — often embellished with clever and elegant spontaneity — remain at the forefront. Herbie Hancock’s “Butterfly,” for instance, opens with darkly shimmering rhythmic refrains as Abbasi eloquently states the main theme. Out of this soulful and intriguing ambience emerges his lyrical improvisation, peppered by Indian motifs. Bill Ware’s crystalline vibraphone lends stimulating angularity without wandering far from the song’s mellow essence. 

Abbasi deconstructs Chick Corea’s “Medieval Overture” to its basic elements, as Ware’s resonant mallet strikes build tension behind the guitarist’s laid-back lines. In contrast to the cinematic and otherworldly atmosphere of Corea’s original recording, the disparity between Abbasi’s relaxed lyricism and Ware’s percussive urgency creates this hauntingly dramatic performance.

Abbasi and company employ a similar methodology throughout, as on their read of John McLaughlin’s “Resolution.” The quartet strips the symphonic piece of its heavily electric instrumentation, but retain its electrifying passion. Bassist Stephan Crump lays down deeply poetic con-arco phrases laced with melancholy as Ware weaves provocative sonic patterns that climb up and down the scales. Meanwhile, Abbasi’s inventive and agile solo maintains McLaughlin’s rock-edged intensity. Drummer Eric McPherson’s complex rumble drives the tune to its satisfying conclusion.

McPherson’s fluid percolations anchor the quartet’s take on Tony Williams’ “There Comes a Time.” Delightfully understated, their interpretation still manages to capture the original’s bluesy fervor. 

Abbasi’s intelligent salute to the jazz-rock era successfully focuses on the music’s simple, graceful allure, unadorned with any of the synthesized sounds that keep it tethered to its time. —Hrayr Attarian

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