Contradiction has its claws wrapped around John Abercrombie's latest recording Cat 'n' Mouse. Somber, weeping melodies offset rolling, jubilant solos. Wild improvisation fades into shifting, dark-ening sonic landscapes. Delicate brushes on drums churn into steady rock beats. The fifth track "Third Stream Samba" doesn't venture anywhere near Brazil. Even the title of the album, naming the classic predator and prey scenario suggests some sort of chase, a hunt, a dominance of one thing over another. And yet the musicians on this disc play with such fluid cooperation.
The natural interplay between Abercrombie and violinist Mark Feldman illustrates the relation-ship the two developed from touring together the past few years. Marc Johnson on double bass adds a third dimension to the album's string essence. His bowing on "Third Steam Samba" mingles with Feldman's violin phrases in a tense, but beautifully dissonant arrangement that finally fades into soft release. Constantly cognizant drummer Joey Baron completes the quartet with complex, understated rhythms. On "Stop and Go" Baron sets a bumpy, unpaved road for Abercrombie's bent notes to jolt along on.
Cat 'n' Mouse continues the free form of 1998's Open Landwith even wider boundaries. Abercrombie's compositions combine varying, fun-damentally conflicting notions that when com-bined create a delicious, frothy concoction of fla-vor. And there is more than enough room for improvisation, which flows naturally collectively, as well as individually. "Convolution" begins with Feldman's screeching, whiny violin, then tumbles into a confused atonal progression of notes before reeling into a rolling, jubilant rock guitar solo. Feldman balances the filthy, hard guitar riffs with sweet melodic intervals.
But Cat 'n' Mouse broils with much more than this bit of confection. A thick texture infiltrates the emotional density of the disc. "Soundtrack" evokes a prism of shifting color. The sound brightens with Feldman's euphoric solos then morphs into quick contrasting hues when Abercrombie and Johnson take over.
Curiosity killed the cat. But curiosity in its most unrestrained form is what gives Cat 'n' Mouse its pulse.
A Nice Idea; Convolution; String Thing; Soundtrack; Third Stream Samba; On The Loose; Stop and Go; Show of Hands.
John Abercrombie: guitar; Mark Feldman: violin; Marc Johnson: bass; Joey Baron: drums.
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