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Remembering John Abercrombie

Craig Jolley By

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There was the guy who played with Bill Haley and took a solo on '“Rock Around the Clock.'” If you go back to the recording it was kind of jazzy. He played more notes than other rock 'n' roll guys would play--he played some runs or something that attracted me.
This interview was first published at All About Jazz in March 2002.

After several years of groove-based and straight-ahead playing guitarist/composer John Abercrombie found his niche in the mid-70'’s with open-oriented Europeans and Americans who often recorded for ECM records. He has broadened his approach over the years with Eastern influences, electronics, and free music although he maintains a strong sense of the jazz tradition. He plays a variety of interactive music, refusing to be limited or compromised.

The ECM sound

Manfred Eicher who's the producer is present at a lot of the record dates. Things are recorded in similar studios with one or two engineers I can think of that we like, and there are a lot of similar musicians recording together. I think Manfred's aesthetic for recording is probably one of the best I've ever heard in terms of getting a really beautiful sound. I'm almost always happy with the sound on my records. I can't say I'm always happy with what I play, but even if I play lousy the sound will still be good! It was the same if you look at old Blue Note records that were recorded at Rudy Van Gelder's studio in New Jersey with Freddie Hubbard, McCoy Tyner, Joe Henderson, and all these people. They'’re all playing on each other's records, and they're all done in the same studio with the same producer. They had a similar sound.

New CD: Cat 'n'’ Mouse (ECM)

It'’s a quartet recording with Marc Feldman playing violin, Marc Johnson on bass, and Joey Baron on drums. It'’s sort of a continuation of the last CD in a way, which is called Open Land. That one was with a working band I've had for many years: Adam Nussbaum on drums and Dan Wall on Hammond organ. Marc Feldman, Kenny Wheeler, or Joe Lovano played on some tunes. That was more of a project. This is like a smaller version in that we don't have Kenny or Joe, and we don't have the organ, but we do have the violin. It'’s also a continuation of my relationship with Feldman in this guitar-violin thing we've been doing. And the album is probably a further departure from Open Land in that it's more abstract. There are about eight songs on the CD, and six are my compositions. Two are free improvisations. The compositions are mostly very open-ended, not structured like my other tunes. There are two pieces that are very structured: '"A Nice Idea," the first tune on the CD is a waltz; there'’s a piece later on called "Soundtrack”." Another way of looking at it is as a string band—there's just guitar bass and violin (and percussion). The free improvisations take on more of a classical chamber sound—it doesn't sound like the usual free jazz with saxophones. I enjoy playing freely with this ensemble more than any other because the instrumentation seems to lend itself to that.

Cat 'n'’ Mouse live performances

There's a week at the Jazz Standard in New York the week of March 26. There are a couple of gigs before that in Boston at Johnny D's, and at a club in Albany called the Van Dyke. There may be a gig at Blues Alley in Washington. At the end of April/beginning of May there's a three-week tour which will cover most of Europe. It starts in Italy, goes through Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. That's what's planned. After the CD's been out for a while maybe we can continue and do more gigs in the states—that's what I'd like to do. It'’s very difficult to work in the states on a consistent basis because of the cost of getting from one place to another and because the way people listen to music in the states is different from the way they listen in Europe. America in general is more of a traditional place. Sometimes it's hard to find places to play where in Europe there are countless places and a larger audience. The audience exists in the states—it's just smaller.

Early guitar influences

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