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Most ECM albums are not only about the notes that are played, but the space between those notes. The label's trademark contemporary sound shines through on prodigal guitarist John Abercrombie's The Third Quartet. Abercrombie is an immediately recognizable musician on that most overplayed of instruments, and the result is an album of extraordinary transcendence that defies glib categorization; such is the supreme appeal of his music, and especially this release.
The Third Quartet is a marked continuation by a special group of people under Abercrombie's leadership. During his thirty-year recording career, he has fronted many groups, and this one has proven to be as creative and exciting to listen to as any.
The unit is cohesive and has developed a sound of its own. They are sensitive, interactive and open, and one of the touchstones seems to be the close group interplay. Every corner of this essential recording is filled with the intoxicating joy of music-making. Simply put, the chemistry between the musicians is almost unparalleled. Abercrombie continues to surprise and delight with his assured guitar dreamscapes, while Mark Feldman achieves a mystical presence with his melodic violin lines and tone.
The set is ambitious and full of charm, warmth, sadness and grace. From the opener, "Banshee, until the last track, "Fine, The Third Quartet possesses the gravity of revelation. Listeners will find many familiar tonal colors and aural landscapes, but the ambient moods bring a distinct, stark background to these quiet and free improvisations. The group often embarks on trips shrouded in mystery, with Joey Baron adding his painterly brush work while Marc Johnson has the melodic gifts of someone who can play different angles of abstract expression.
Each composition offers something special, and if you focus on any of the players each time you listen, you hear and learn something different. This is exploratory music, unique unto itself. The listener can decipher one level of meaning, only to discover anotherequally as perplexingbeneath. Characteristically for this label, the album is packaged with a beautiful, abstract minimalist painting by artist Max Franosch. Overall, the aim seems to keep things quiet in order to explore the subtle interplay among Feldman, Johnson, Baron and Abercrombie. The Third Quartet is an artistic triumph, and quite possibly Abercrombie's finest work ever.