Pianist Marc Copland
met guitarist John Abercrombie
when he first went to New York as an alto saxophonist, playing with him in Chico Hamilton
's quartet in 1971. Copland returned to New York as a pianist in the early 1980s, and first recorded with Abercrombie on the album That's For Sure
(Challenge, 2001), followed by several others. He was Abercrombie's pianist for his final quartet albums, 39 Steps
(ECM, 2013) and Up And Coming
(ECM, 2017), and toured with him for years, including the final tour in December, 2016.
It is a special treat to hear him play an entire program of Abercrombie's compositions. In addition to being eminently qualified, he shines a light on Abercrombie's songcraft. While widely acclaimed as a guitarist, Abercrombie can fairly be called underrated as a composer. Copland opens with "Timeless," the title tune from Abercrombie's 1975 ECM leader debut. As many listeners' first exposure to the guitarist, it is an appropriate choice, and Copland captures the spacious atmosphere of the tune. Curiously, Copland chose not to cover "Ralph's Piano Waltz" from that album as well; the title alone makes it an obvious choice, in addition to being one of Abercrombie's most memorable songs.
The program takes a leap forward in time to "Isla" from Five Years Later
(ECM, 1982), Abercrombie's second duet album with Ralph Towner
. Copland elaborates on the original tune with interesting (slightly outside) harmonic answers and paraphrases of the melody. "Flipside" is a swing tune from Up And Coming
, and a staple of the last quartet's live set list, as was the waltz (with a few rhythmic twists) "Sunday School." The ballad "Remember Hymn" from Getting There
(ECM, 1988) presented an arrangement challenge, as the original featured Mike Brecker's saxophone over a dense guitar synthesizer background. Paring it back to the basics created a thoughtful interpretation, lush with creative harmonic choices.
"Love Letter" is another waltz which was played by Abercrombie's last quartet, unrecorded (and untitled) until Copeland's trio album And I Love Her
(Illusions Mirage, 2019). Here it is played freely, moving in and out of waltz time and rubato. "Vertigo" from 39 Steps
is built upon a challenging structure; Copland says that it took a while to play on it without being a slave to it. Copland had plenty of practice navigating it, which ultimately makes for a confident, yet slightly unsettled final track. A fitting testament to both the beauty and the challenges in John Abercrombie's compositions.
Timeless; Isla; Flip Side; Sad Song; Avenue; Sunday School; Remember Hymn; Love Letter; Vertigo.