Mason Razavi, Quartet Plus

by Jeff Becker

Mason Razavi is a jazz guitarist, composer, educator, and band-leader based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Razavi started out as a self-taught rock guitarist, but after hearing an Andres Segovia recording at the age of 22, he changed directions dramatically and focused on the classical literature and the nylon-strung guitar. After several years of immersion in the classical world, Razavi returned to a more balanced diet of classical, jazz and rock, and the electric guitar. Today Razavi views himself as a jazz guitarist/composer with a diverse background.

Razavi’s experiences range from rock bands, accompanying concert choirs, backing up jazz singers, and even as a solo classical guitarist. Razavi has performed at the Wilshire Ebell Theater, Paradise Rock Club, and on stage at the San Jose Repertory Theater as well as countless gigs as a sideman and leader of his own groups. He holds a M.A. in Jazz Studies from San Jose State University and a B.M. from Berklee College of Music, where he studied jazz composition and majored in Contemporary Writing and Production.

Razavi’s debut CD/DVD People, Places, and Monsters is an astoundingly creative project that features Razavi’s original music for the solo nylon-strung guitar set to original animation. Razavi’s current project, Quartet Plus, is a collection of Razavi’s originals orchestrated by both a quartet and a nonet. Razavi’s compositions are rich with the sounds of the jazz tradition, but he also cleverly expands upon the tradition with modern colors, rhythmic setting and innovative textures. Four of the eight tracks on the album are performed by a quartet with the remaining tracks featuring the quartet plus a 5-horn section.

“Highrise” finds Razavi’s warm steel-strung guitar taking the forefront over a hip straight-eight groove that methodically develops into a flowing singable melody with well-placed hits and chordal movement. Razavi’s builds his solo just as he does his composed melodies, with thought to thematic development and storytelling. The groove continues to get hipper and funkier as Razavi builds in energy and register to finish his solo statement. Roth-Newell takes a fine solo on the keyboard with a Rhodes like sound; again the ensemble builds behind the soloist, making a clear musical statement and an enjoyable listen.

Perhaps Razavi’s strong point on this outing is his ballad writing and soloing, “Prayer for Newtown” has a gorgeously tender melody and is orchestrated beautifully. The way Razavi’s nylon-strung guitar is paired with the bass clarinet and arco bass during various sections is very affective in creating a haunting soundscape for Ravazi’s tender guitar lines.

Quartet Plus is a wonderful project that will appeal to listener, composer and player alike, Razavi has kept the project on the mellow side, but by no means is it a sleep inducer, each selection develops with deep counterpoint and shifting sections and feel. Overall, it is a very well balanced release in colors, feels and most of all cohesiveness. Worth the listen, worth adding to your collection.