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John Abercrombie: Class Trip

Andrey Henkin By

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When guitarist John Abercrombie connected with violinist Mark Feldman for Open Land (ECM, '99), he continued a tradition, albeit in an updated fashion, that stretched back to Reinhardt and Grappelli. Introducing drummer Joey Baron in to the fold for the followup, Cat n' Mouse (ECM, '02), continued the lineage down to the triumvirate of John McLaughlin, Jerry Goodman and Billy Cobham of the first incarnation of the Mahavishnu Orchestra. The new album by the quartet, rounded out once more by Marc Johnson on bass, has taken a step back, not towards the hot jazz of Reinhardt and Grappelli but towards some of Abercrombie's more reflective work during his thirty-year tenure with ECM.

Abercrombie has never really fit into the mold of his contemporaries, the George Benson School initially, and the Coryell fusion model subsequently. Perhaps it is his airy tone or his compositional style that shies away from strict forms. While he can play fast and even with rock-like abandon, his projects always have an amorphous quality to them that make everything he plays seem like suites rather than tunes. On Class Trip , eleven modest-length compositions make use of wonderful guitar-violin unison lines over expansive foundation of Baron and Johnson. Some may call Abercrombie a fusion guitarist, but this term is inaccurate. The fusion that is commonly derided is composed like a fast run through a series of sharp corners. Abercrombie's compositions are a stroll through a forest, one that can have a thunderstorm or two, but rarely presents the same scene twice.

Some may prefer an edgier Abercrombie; that is what his live performances are for. July's mini-stand at Birdland was an opportunity to play some older compositions and expand upon them mellifluously and with humor. His albums rather are carefully sculpted affairs that present his sparse sketches to the listener, with a sense of just being born and with room to adapt. Some of the pieces on Class Trip —the title track, the opening "Dansir" and the album's highlight, "Swirls"—will no doubt become much more than originally envisioned. Abercrombie uses the ethereality of the ECM tradition as a path towards more freedom instead of as an inhibitor.

Track Listing: Dansir; Risky Business; Descending Grace; Illnoise; Cat Walk; Excuse My Shoes; Swirls; Jack and Betty; Class Trip; Soldier's Song; Epilogue

Personnel: John Abercrombie (guitar), Mark Feldman (bass), Marc Johnson (double bass), Joey Baron (drums)

Title: Class Trip | Year Released: 2004 | Record Label: ECM Records


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