There is a continuum in jazz, as in most music genera, which extends from the most rigidly defined and precisely contained performance to the antithetically free and fully open recital. To offer examples of the former, one might consider swing era big band music of the Glenn Miller ilk. The latter is embodied in John Coltrane's late period as typified in Interstellar Space (Impulse!, 1967). Guitarist John Abercrombie, and the quartet he has fronted since 2000, falls to the right of center in this spectrum, producing quietly intense music of sculpted freedom and character.
Using the unique line-up of guitar-violin-bass-drums, Abercrombie effortlessly composes pieces snuggly fit to the band's considerable talents. Back to the freedom spectrum idea, The Third Quartet opens with the Abercrombie original "Banshee, a piece as untethered as blowing dust. Abercrombie affects a distorted tone while playing Eastern harmonic motifs in front of the sawing figures of Mark Feldman's violin. Drummer Joey Baron sets what tempo is present with his ride cymbal, throwing the occasional rim shot here and there.
The freedom of "Banshee is effectively contrasted with the lyrical "Vingt Six, which begins with an Abercrombie-Feldman duet, beautifully ornamented as a gentle ballad. Breaking from past practice, Abercrombie includes some standards in his recital, most notably Bill Evans' "Epilogue. Evans was known for a delicate and impressionistic approach to his piano performance, and Abercrombie and Feldman easily assimilate and emulate this approach in theirs.
The disc title, The Third Quartet, is a clever play on classical music naming. In this present case, it means the third recording by Abercrombie with his present working quartet, the two previous releases being Cat 'n' Mouse (ECM, 2002) and Class Trip (ECM, 2004). Each recording represents lessons learned from the previous one, showing a steady evolution toward a certain jazz perfection rare in the art.
Personnel: John Abercrombie: guitar; Mark Feldman: violin; Joey Baron: drums; Marc Johnson: bass.