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Guitarist Rez Abbasi embraces Pakistani musical influences on new album “Suno Suno”

In guitarist Rez Abbasi‘s Suno Suno (“Listen Listen” in Urdu) the music has a heaven-and-earth quality. It’s built on melodies with an elusive, indefinable vocal quality, and solid grooves. It has an almost indescribable center and a hard edge. There is nothing standard about the songs or the soloing. 
Much of the inspiration for this music came from Pakistani Qawwali, a devotional Sufi music (popularized in the west by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan) which, not unlike gospel, is meant to elevate the spirit and bring the listener and participants closer to a higher power. However, in Suno Suno there are no obvious references — not for most Western ears anyway. In fact, Abbasi reaches beyond a simple ‘translation into jazz’ for something more essential. 

“I’ve been listening to Qawwali most of my life,” says Abbasi in a news release, “and making a conscious effort to bring that element into my compositions, was a natural and powerful step. Something I was intent on notdoingwas imitating for example, Qawwali melodies. Rather, I wanted to utilize my history with the music as an intuitive tool for composing.”
He continues, “People are used to hearing overt influences in what is called a jazz hybrid, but I think the new paradigm that gets the best results is to write from the raw elements and feelings that lie just under the musical radar. This way the result remains organic and not simply a juxtaposition of genres.”
Performed by a group of singers, two harmoniums, and a percussionist, and paced by the clapping of the ensemble, Qawwali is an expression of praise whereby melodies are often repeated without variation in order to create a trance-like euphoria.
In Suno Suno, his eighth recording as a leader, Abbasi says in the album notes, “The challenge was to capture some of the power, passion and joy of Qawwali with an instrumental jazz group, without direct imitation.” His group, “Invocation” comprises Rudresh Mahanthappa, alto saxophone; Vijay Iyer, piano; Johannes Weidenmueller, bass, and Dan Weiss, drums. 

Born in Karachi, Pakistan, Abbasi has lived in the United States since he was four. He began his studies at the University of Southern California and soon moved to New York City to attend the Manhattan School of Music. His influences in guitar evolved quickly from George Benson, to Pat Martino, Wes Montgomery, and, most decisively, Jim Hall. Other notable influences were John Coltrane, Keith Jarrett, Bela Bartok and Claude Debussy.