Its hard to believe ECM, the
distinguished German jazz record company founded by Manfred Eicher, celebrated its 30th
year of existence in 1999. Guitarist John Abercrombie has maintained an affiliation with
ECM since 1974, when his first album as a leader, the now-classic Timeless, was
issued. Abercrombies interest in the textural and timbral aspects of music, coupled
with his passion for open-ended improvisation, made him a perfect fit with the
"chamber-jazz" sound pioneered by the label.
Three decades later, so much has changed in the music world, but
Abercrombie remains true to his mid-70s concepts, adding and embellishing as he sees fit;
his has become one of the most distinctive guitar voices in jazz today. A generation of
younger plectorists, from Pat Metheny to Bill Frisell, is deeply indebted to the
Open Land, the Greenwich, CT natives latest offering, is
built around his 7-year-old trio with organist Dan Wall and drummer Adam Nussbaum. Three
guestsKenny Wheeler, Joe Lovano and Mark Feldman--join the trio in various
combinations. When all six players are present, as on the title track (which moves from
refined ensemble statements to wild improvised solos and back again), the group achieves
an orchestral breadth of sound. When only one guest appears, as on "Speak Easy,"
Abercrombies affectionate tribute to his longtime association with brass master
Wheeler, the effect is similar to the impact of listening to an accomplished string
quartet, where an uncanny merging of individual voices ebbs and flows within each piece.
Not to suggest that Wheelers trumpet sound isnt identifiable...quite the
contrary! For that matter, saxophonist Lovano and violinist Feldman are instantly
recognizable as well, but the leader has found a way for every player to serve his
compositions, rather than forcing every composition to serve as a feature for a particular
Lovano, whos worked with Abercrombie in a quartet led by French
bassist Henri Texier, comes across as more subdued than were accustomed to hearing
him. Feldman, however, manages to set a few fires with his amazing bow, most notably on
"Spring Song" and "Thats for Sure." The guitarist sounds
inspired throughout, although one wishes for a couple more electric outbursts like the one
he unleashes during his extended "Open Land" solo.
John Abercrombie still finds time for the occasional sideman stint.
During the past year, he made some wonderful contributions to Charles Lloyds Voice
in the Night album, to Colours by the Lars Moller Group (a Danish aggregation),
and to Mystique, a session led by West Coast trombonist Dave Eshelman. In addition,
he maintains a working relationship with Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette, his colleagues
in Gateway, a cooperative trio originally formed in 1975, which reunited in 1994 after
over 15 years.
Copyright©WWUH: January/February Program Guide, 2000