By Hrayr Attarian
Rez Abbasi Django-shift
Rez Abbasi – Guitar
Neil Alexander – Keyboards
Michael Sarin – Drums
Over the course of his almost three-decades-long career, guitarist Rez Abbasi has forged a singular path marked with restless innovation and a unique style. His work has encompassed forays into both electric and acoustic sounds as well as influences varying from jazz, Western popular genres, and south Asian folk music—all delivered with vibrant spontaneity. On the 2020 Django-shift, Abbasi pays homage to another trailblazer, the ingenious Django Reinhardt.
Abbasi, being who he is, does not merely reinterpret the Reinhardt songbook, but brilliantly deconstructs it. He and his bandmates get to the core of each melody and reimagine it all the while maintaining the spirit of the composition and its thematic coherence. For instance, the Reinhardt classic “Swing 42” is as ethereal as the original—yet with a modernistic and delightfully eerie backdrop that keyboardist Neil Alexander and drummer Michael Sarin create. Over Sarin’s angular beats and Alexander’s simmering synths Abbasi takes a musing and eloquent solo, transforming the tune into a futuristic soundtrack.
“Django’s Castle,” on the other hand, has a mystical atmosphere imbued with a nocturnesque melancholy. Abbasi’s contemplative improvisation echoes against Sarin’s shuffling brushes, while Alexander’s absorbing performance is replete with pillowy, resonant tones occasionally reminiscent of an otherworldly accordion.
Sarin and Abbasi often mirror one another, resulting in densely layered and kaleidoscopic pieces like the duet “September Song.” One of the two tracks not penned by Reinhardt, yet strongly associated with him, this take of Kurt Weill’s composition is deeply spiritual yet also quite organic. Abbasi’s solemn yet vibrant lines float hauntingly over Alexander’s sacred organ chords. Their soulful dialogue reconstructs this standard with hypnotic deference.
Another subtly dramatic moment occurs on “Hungaria.” Starting with a rock-inspired rhythmic framework, the trio sets the stage for Abbasi’s elegant and virtuosic extemporization. Alexander and Abbasi trade thrilling phrases, pushing one another to new extremes. Sarin’s thunderous percussion concludes the tune on a gripping and tense tone.
This is an intriguing recording for open-minded listeners who find satisfaction in the way Abbasi has brought the essence of Reinhardt’s work and its radicalism to the 21st century. Abbasi’s homage is more personal and meaningful to Reinhardt’s legacy than any slavish copy would be. Purists who want to hear Reinhardt’s music retold note for note are referred to the master’s extensive catalogue. For the rest of us there is the provocative and captivating Django-shift.