SJZ Fall Concert Series: Get to Know Rez Abbasi & Junction - San Jose Jazz

SJZ Fall Concert Series: Get to Know Rez Abbasi & Junction

Celebrated guitarist Rez Abbasi performs with his latest project, Junction, as part of the San Jose Jazz Fall Concert Series on October 28 at Cafe Pink House. The series kicked off last Sunday with a frequent collaborator of Abbasi's, saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa and his quintet, who performed selections from his acclaimed release, Bird Calls. Before Abbasi & Junction take the stage at the end of the month, get up-to-speed with his latest project making its Bay Area debut. Rez Abbasi was born in Karachi, Pakistan and moved with his parents to the Los Angeles area at the age of five. He studied at USC before heading to the Manhattan School of music. He moved to New York City in 1987 (or 1989), where he's been based ever since. Behind the Vibration, released this past May via Cuneiform Records, finds him returning to a more rock/fusion mindset. The album, full of original compositions, is a departure from his other recent efforts, which often explored a fusion between jazz and Indian classical. As he notes on BandCamp, "in some ways this project connects me more directly back to my first love, the energy that comes out of rock music." Rock certainly seems to be a bedrock for Vibration, though there are subtle details that ensure it's simply one style from a vibrant, diverse musical palette Abbasi and his skilled support staff contribute. Of note is the choice to not include a dedicated bass player to the fold. Instead, the low-end duties are shared between keyboardist Ben Stivers and Mark Shim, who utilized the lower register of his MIDI wind instrument to contribute bass lines. Abbasi's band is pulled from a variety of musical beginnings. Keyboardist Ben Stivers started his career as a studio musician, first logging time with the Bee Gees. He later earned credits with the likes of Matchbox Twenty, Jose Feliciano and Ricky Martin. Drummer Kenny Grohowski, raised in Miami, has a background in heavy metal, yet he's also worked with Cassandra Wilson and Vernon Reid. Saxophonist Mark Shim, born in Jamaica and raised in Virginia, boasts a resume with appearances alongside legends like Elvin Jones and Betty Carter as well as supporting slots with contemporary jazz leaders like pianist Vijay Iyer and saxophonist Steve Lehman. Iyer's a connection point to Abbasi, who's collaborated with the pianist frequently. In fact, both Iyer and Mahanthappa appeared on his 2009 effort Things to Come as part of his Invocation ensemble. DownBeat Magazine later named this album among their "Best CDs of the 2000s," and earned the group a CMA grant to create new music. Things to Come may be the most notable record in a segment of his catalog that's explored musical intersections between East and West, but it's certainly not his only album to do so. It's been a through-line of his career, in which the guitarist "has manifested an uncommon gift for creating new sounds in settings deeply inflected by traditional forms." He's also explored this connection in more direct ways. I addition to his solo work, Abbasi serves as musical director and producer for his wife, Indo-Canadian vocalist Kiran Ahluwalia. Thanks to their collaboration, Ahluwalia has received multiple honors, including two Juno Awards for World Music Album of the Year. With an eclectic set of musical partners and a career focused on honoring the many points of inspiration throughout his career, Rez Abbasi heads to San Jose with an ensemble from varied backgrounds whose shared focus manifests in searching, yet focused, ways. San Jose Jazz Fall Concert Series continues with Rez Abbasi & Junction on Friday, Oct. 28 at 7:30pm at Cafe Pink House in Saratoga. Click here for more information or to purchase tickets.

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