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A Nice Idea & Brand New

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John Abercrombie and Andy LaVerne
A Nice Idea
SteepleChase
2005

There are several challenges with having a guitar and piano together in a small combo. One is to keep the music from getting too muddy due to overlapping, sustained chords. Another is to generate a sense of forward motion, without the drums and bass to help. And with a guitar-piano duo album, a third challenge is to sustain the listener's interest over the course of ten or so tracks when there are unavoidably a limited number of different possible textures.

John Abercrombie and Andy LaVerne's A Nice Idea succeeds at the first challenge, does so partially with the second and comes up a bit short on the third. The album is divided in half, the first featuring such standards as "Days of Wine and Roses and "Besame Mucho, the second spotlighting originals by LaVerne or Abercrombie.

The duo swings well together, evenly trading comping and soloing duties. LaVerne tends to be more energetic, perhaps because of the percussive nature of the piano, though Abercrombie does an impressive job at times of playing a rapid-running bass line while still managing some staccato chords. Monk's "Round About Midnight features the two at their most simpatico, anticipating and playing off each other's melodic and rhythmic ideas. LaVerne's "Now Hear This, with its progressions hinting at gospel and Americana, takes the prize for best original.


Marc Copland, John Abercrombie, Kenny Wheeler
Brand New
Challenge
2005

On Brand New, Abercrombie joins Marc Copland on piano and Kenny Wheeler on trumpet and flugelhorn for an album of extended improvisations on mostly original tunes. (The average track is about seven-and-a-half minutes long.) Too much of Brand New, though, plods along without ideas from the soloists that are arresting enough to keep one's interest on the harmonic and structural development of the tunes. Wheeler's "Reach for That Other Place is a prime example - it aims for contemplation but finds lethargy instead.

In this case, the trio falls far short of the second challenge above, generating a strong sense of motion without bass and drums. Some tracks are surprisingly flat, such as Nat Adderley's "Jive Samba. Here and elsewhere, Abercrombie employs an edgy, raspy distortion effect on his guitar, out of place whenever it crops up, suggesting a rock or fusion element that isn't affirmed by anything else on the album.

A Nice Idea

Tracks: 1. How My Heart Sings 2. Sometime Ago 3. Days of Wine and Roses 4. Besame Mucho 5. In Love in Vain 6. Refried Bananas 7. Round About Midnight 8. Now Hear This 9. A Nice Idea 10. Confabulation 11. Jazz Folk

Personnel: John Abercrombie, guitar; Andy LaVerne, piano

Brand New

Tracks: 1. Monk Song 2. Lights Out 3. Jive Samba 4. Reach for That Other Place 5. Take Four 6. Brand New 7. Odyssey 8. Watching Simona 9. Taking a Chance on Love

Personnel: John Abercrombie, guitar; Marc Copland, piano; Kenny Wheeler, trumpet and flugelhorn.

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