John Abercrombie is a graduate of the class of guitarists whose role was expanded through the work of players like Jim Hall, Wes Montgomery, Attila Zoller, Kenny Burrell and Grant Green. This mid- to late-'60's group includes such noteworthy figures as Pat Martino, John McLaughlin, Larry Coryell, Terje Rypdal, Sonny Sharrock and many others. What sets Abercrombie apart is his refusal to live off past successes. While even single projects, like Gateway or his duets with Ralph Towner, have cemented his reputation, Abercrombie, both in the studio and in live performance, is always innovative, outdistancing those of his peers who have settled comfortably in middle-aged complacency and nostalgia. New York is fortunate to have John Abercrombie playing here regularly and the month of March found him in two distinctly different groups in two diametrically opposed venues.
The Lounge at CB's Gallery, March 10, 2002
John Abercrombie (eg), Lorn Stillman (as), Bob Meyer (drm)
Considering that John Abercrombie is one of the few guitarists with an extensive bass-less discography, it was no surprise then to see him in this unconventional format. Jackalope is almost a pickup group, its members residing in nearby Westchester County. The intimate subterranean lounge at CB's Gallery heightened the informal rapport of the trio. The club's program of avant-garde Sundays has made it one the finest locations to hear compelling, thought provoking musicians in the city. The dim lighting, assortment of couch seating, and complete lack of sophisticated pretension put both musicians and audience at ease.
The group played two short sets consisting of originals and free improvisations. Abercrombie's effect on other musicians is astonishing. His originality and musicianship allow for no coasting. The 24-minute "Open Land" segueing into "Dawn of Clementine" opened the show and immediately displayed why Abercrombie is such a unique voice. His style is the purest fusion, an often overused term. While his approach is aggressive and has a rock edge, his lines have the unpredictability and cerebral nature of the most complex jazz. His picking style goes against conventional wisdom by only involving his thumb, but is done with such fluid grace that maybe a whole generation of guitarists will follow his example. 20-something saxophonist Lorn Stillman had a tough assignment keeping up with Abercrombie but held his own and even at moments took over and had Abercrombie following him. Meyer chose to only punctuate the proceedings rather than overwhelm them with constant rhythm. The front line of guitar and sax worked together over the nicely composed melody and then shifted harmonically away from each other as the piece became more frenetic. The set finished with another long segment, beginning with "Four on One" and ending with an impromptu jam. Abercrombie, who never stops being inventive, even when "comping" under Stillman's solo, added atonal filigrees and intervals that are unheard in other guitar circles.
Gunther Schuller's "Densities", Abercrombie's "Stop and Go" and an original by Stillman, "Chicken Marsalis", comprised the thirty minute second set. Schuller's angular composing is ideal for Abercrombie's unorthodox style. Stillman's horn work flowed over choppy playing by Abercrombie. The pace quickened over heavy drums and Abercrombie showed off his virtuosity, flying across the fret board, climbing one emotional ridge after another. "Stop and Go" has a hoedown quality to it. Abercrombie, no matter how fast or eccentric his playing, always perfectly articulated every note, no mean feat. Stillman's warm tone and ability for dramatic flurries complement Abercrombie's playing quite nicely, and will be interesting to hear within the confines of a studio from a possible album release. Stillman had his finest moment on his one original of the evening. There is a grand scale to this piece, Abercrombie playing thick chords over Meyer's thrashing drums. The piece gained momentum, resolving in a veritable blizzard of notes and free blowing. Abercrombie, whose name is synonymous with refinement and polish, showed a different side during this show, one of freedom and spontaneity that left the crowd eagerly expecting this group's return to CB's Gallery in June.
John Abercrombie Quartet
The Jazz Standard, March 27, 2002
John Abercrombie (eg), Mark Feldman (vln), Mike McGuirk (ab), Joey Baron (drm)
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