A junction is the point at which several things converge. For the visionary and award-winning jazz guitarist Rez Abbasi, his new band Junction weaves together musical currents he’s spent his career navigating. Abbasi has been at the center of some of the most enthralling and culturally expansive music of the past two decades, and his Cuneiform debut Behind the Vibration introduces a bracing new body of music, a sinewy 21st century approach to jazz-rock inspired by his far-flung influences.
“Everything I do musically is stimulated by call and response,” Abbasi says. “I did the Acoustic Quartet project of covers from the ‘70s jazz-rock period and that impacted me to want to do an electric project of all originals. The new album reflects a continuum of what I’ve been doing all along – finding fresh orchestrations to present my music through. In some ways this project connects me more directly back to my first love, the energy that comes out of rock music. I wrote new tunes for this band and it was time for all these musical worlds to collide.”
Junction, the electric project that Abbasi formed to bring his original tunes to life, features Mark Shim on tenor saxophone and the electronic MIDI Wind Controller, Ben Stivers on keyboards, B-3 organ and Rhodes, and drummer Kenny Grohowski. The band is a supremely maleable ensemble that has forged a poised and texturally accute group approach. While exploring a vivid palette of electronic sounds and aggressive grooves, Junction maintains the dynamics, precise calibration, and interactive imperative of an inspired jazz ‘acoustic’ combo.
Sonically surprising, the album opens with “Holy Butter,” a piece inspired by a collaboration with classical South Indian dancers. In the first of many sonic feints, what sounds like a deeply funky bass solo is actually Shim getting down with his MIDI Wind Controller. Indeed, not having a defined bass player is a significant element of Junction, opening up the band’s sound as Stivers and Shim alternate low end responsibilities.
Inspired by the Arab Spring, “Groundswell” is a slowly ascending tune that, while originally written for another ensemble, comes home in Junction, with Stivers on B-3—“the first electric keyboard instrument,” Abbasi notes—and a searing Abbasi solo followed by Shim’s oragami-angular tenor. If that piece evokes the mounting of external pressure, “Uncommon Sense” suggests a wending internal spiritual journey with a hypnautically sinuous opening guitar line. As Abbasi puts it, “The title refers to a ‘sense’ that’s beyond our five and one that’s more difficult to connect to due to the clutter in our minds.” Before long, the becalmed lyricism gives way to a frantic search powered by Grohowski’s exceptionally deft trap work.
A sparsely decorated noir scene that emerges and departs without pausing for a solo, “And I You” is a brief, cinematic mood piece that arrives mid-album like a shimmering urban oasis. “Self-Brewing” is one of the album’s most fusion-y pieces, with a steeplechase theme introduced by Abbasi and Shim on Midi Wind Controller. The album closes with “Matter Falls,” a mid-tempo anthem that hints at South Asian cadences. Both grand and invitingly intimate, it’s a crunching tune that points to further explorations. Clearly, Junction is just one stop on a spectacularly rich and incident-filled sojourn.
With this newest album, Behind the Vibration, realized via his new electric Junction, Abbasi takes another bold step, embracing his rock ‘n’ roll roots with a bear hug that encompasses post-bop, South Asian traditions, and state of the art sonics. “More than anything that I’ve ever recorded, this album is the convergence of everything I’m interested in,” he says. “The musicians I’ve chosen are versatile enough to pull it off. It’s not only all of the influences that have come up to this point, it’s also the process of merging it with the technology of today. This is music that could’ve only happened now.”
- Jazz & Blues