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John Abercrombie Quartet: 39 Steps

Andrew Luhn By

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Guitarist John Abercrombie has had a long and successful association with ECM records and for his latest release, 39 Steps, he completes his quartet with a piano. Abercombie had success with this format in the 1970s with Richie Beirach, George Mraz, and Peter Donald, but in the past 10 years his ECM releases have been more focused on his quartet with violinist, Mark Feldman.

For his return to this format, Abercrombie has chosen pianist Marc Copland, making 39 Steps Copland's debut on ECM. However, Copland and Abercrombie's relationship dates back to the early '70s when they were both regulars in Chico Hamilton's groups. Throughout this album he proves his sound is perfectly suited to both Abercrombie's quartet, and the ECM label. Bassist Drew Gress, and drummer Joey Baron have both recorded with Abercrombie before and the two make an excellent team throughout the album.

Abercrombie's fans will be familiar by now with his unique compositional approach and his focus on group improvisation. This disc does not disappoint as the group plays together with a careful, delicate touch and makes it sound easy. Six of the ten tracks are Abercrombie originals and two are originals contributed by Copland. These range from carefully composed ensemble pieces to tunes that contain just enough to serve as jumping off points for this quartet.

"Shadow of a Doubt" is a collective improvisation by the group, showcasing its members' amazing ability to listen to each other as well as play together. The quartet does a great job of building up a dark atmosphere, which serves as a worthy intro to the album's high point, its title track. Here the group shines, really paying close attention to each other and playing with a careful, measured touch. Copland sounds especially good on this track, both during Abercrombie's solo and during his own solo, creating plenty of tension and excitement but never drawing the listener's attention away from the group as a whole.

The album closes with an interesting take on the old standard "My Melancholy Baby." Abercrombie and Copland have some fun with the melody as the tune turns into a collective solo with a very loose time feel, giving Abercrombie and Copland plenty of room for interplay.

Fans of Abercrombie's playing won't be disappointed by this album and neither will fans of the ECM record label. It's a great addition to his growing body of work and Marc Copland proves to be a good choice with whom Abercrombie to collaborate. This quartet is now preparing for a European tour following the release of this album and hopefully we can expect more ECM releases from this group in the future.

Track Listing: Vertigo; LST; Bacharach; Greenstreet; As It Stands; Spellbound; Another Ralph's; Shadow Of A Doubt; 39 Steps; Melancholy Baby.

Personnel: John Abercrombie: guitar; Marc Copland: piano; Drew Gress: double bass; Joey Baron: drums.

Title: 39 Steps | Year Released: 2013 | Record Label: ECM Records

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