Like wired up children engaged in riotous play, John Abercrombie’s compositions reach exuberant heights before descending slowly into somber themes. Comprised of tight, vibrant weaves, these tunes go way beyond the 280-thread count of fine bed linens, and it takes a well-tuned group of musicians to produce the full, luxurious effects of the music.
Last Wednesday (March 27), the John Abercrombie Quartet glistened. And the crowd at the newly refurbished Jazz Standard in New York listened with admiration as Abercrombie on guitar, Mark Feldman on violin, Joey Baron on drums, and Mike McGuirk who sat in for Marc Johnson on bass, filled the space with auditory texture.
Swinging, waltzing, smiling, laughing, and teasing each other the whole way through, these guys had fun. Combined with Baron’s bright-eyed enthusiasm, Feldman’s leprechaun-like steps, and Abercrombie’s hilarious characters, the musical skill and double-helix dynamic of the group set off a contagious vibe of sheer delight.
On tunes like "A Nice Idea" and "Open Land" Abercrombie and Feldman played the crescendoing melodies in unison. Sometimes at breakneck speed, other times just slow enough to leave a sense of vulnerable longing.
Always conscious of what was going on, Baron captured a moment, dominated it, toyed with it, threw the tempo inside out, and sent slivers of plastic red sticks flying. He radiated glee.
The quartet frequently ventured into collective improvisation. Abercrombie’s new disc, Cat ‘n’ Mouse introduces a new, more experimental side to the composer and the free style of the evening’s set mirrored this.
Abercrombie added dimension to his songs by playing with the theme, finding it at various places along the neck of his guitar and inverting it. The sound seemed to come from him as opposed to his instrument. One could actually sense the music being conjured up from the depths of his being and released through his fingers.
They really went at it. All together, individually, the quartet attacked their instruments. Delving into hard rock and roll sprung from rich, melodic jazz. "Seriously, my major influences are Jim Hall and Wes Montgomery," Abercrombie joked after a scathing-hot rock solo during "On the Loose."
Feldman embellished the evening with soaring flourishes, flecks of plucking, slow wistful melodies, and stuttering jolts across his strings. He played madly, wildly with an accented crook of the neck.
The addition of McGuirk sacrificed the gorgeous mingling of Johnson’s bowed bass with Feldman’s violin. Though McGuirk did not bow, his agile fingers exhibited an unrestrained curiosity. He devoured the instrument as if it was a savory feast, creating smooth, lyrical phrases.
To watch the John Abercrombie Quartet at the peak of a performance is to witness the human emotion of joy at its purest.
Read our March 2002 interview with John Abercrombie.
For news, bio, tour dates, discography and more go to johnabercrombie.com.