John Abercrombie Quartet
The Jazz Bakery
Los Angeles, California
Friday, April 20, 2007
The interpretations that guitarist John Abercrombie and his quartet gave to each selection for the first set of a Friday night opening engagement at Los Angeles' Jazz Bakery allowed for plenty of room to stretch out. Each of the four musicians made contributions that meshed seamlessly and dynamically, producing an inspired session. Uniformly wearing black and appearing, oh so serious, they dove into their work with deep concentration. Yet, the music offered the listener wasn't filled with excessive tension or self-absorbed melancholy. No, they preferred to open their L.A. stay with a more illuminating message, conveyed through light swing, gentle rhythms, and startling cadenzas. "Dansir and "Class Trip," from the quartet's last album, opened the set, followed by two more numbers that extended the comfortable mood for over an hour. Along the way, each artist shone with a dedicated veteran's experience. This was the final leg of the quartet's nationwide tour, and everything seemed to meld intuitively and spontaneously throughout the performance.
Abercrombie led the trio with a fluid approach, using his thumb and forefinger to stroke each note with a coaxing persuasion. His impressionist musical rhetoric gave balance and a sure-fire harmonic structure to each piece without forcing the issue. Ever so gradually, he moved the performances from a calm point of origin to a place of greater excitement, while keeping the rest of the quartet highly involved in remaining true to the motivating thematic message. Violinist Mark Feldman followed a similar pattern each time that he stood to join the group or to solo. By building gradually and working his way toward an emotional release, he had the audience awestruck.
Bassist Marc Johnson, working with a narrowed-down instrument that carried some of the same resonant sound as the larger model he employed as a member of pianist Bill Evans' last trio, provided a deep groove and solid foundation while being responsible for much of the swing that occurred in the first three selections. Moreover, the delight he took in his role was candidly visible. When soloing, Johnson moved all over the instrument, extending its range with impressive but spontaneous technique. Joey Baron, who brings along with his drum kit a happy expression wherever he goes, chose flexible bundles of dowels over harder drumsticks for most of the session, thus infusing the quartet's sublime expressiveness with dignity and grace.
Maybe much of the musical magic was due to the ambience. After all, Abercrombie and friends had just had dinner at the same adjacent restaurant that we did, and that certainly turned out well, setting the tone for an enjoyable evening on the part of musicians and audience alike. The Jazz Bakery has stood in its corner of the greater Los Angeles area for a long time; otherwise, the area never has been especially receptive to neighboring facilities with longer stays in mind. You go to The Jazz Bakery for the tasteful music. Shopping, dining and whatnots aren't in the picture. However, with the arrival of La Dijonaise, a superb French restaurant, it looks like future trips to The Bakery will occur more frequently and entail more than music alone.
Personnel: John Abercrombie: guitar; Marc Johnson: bass; Joey Baron: drums; Mark Feldman: violin.