John Abercrombie may well become the most recorded guitarist in jazz historyhis discography being rather generous, to say the least. His collaboration with ECM spans three decades and counts over twenty solo albums with diverse formations and line-ups. Of those, the trios with organist Dan Wall and drummer Alan Nussbaum as well as Gateway (with drummer Jack DeJohnette and bassist Dave Holland) were particularly grabbing. A sought-after sideman, he also played on countless projects by Kenny Wheeler, Charles Lloyd, Billy Cobham, Enrico Rava, Colin Walcott among many others. But, since Cat 'n' Mouse
(ECM, 2002), this working quartet consisting of violinist Mark Feldman, bassist Marc Johnson and drummer Joey Baron, is where Abercrombie has directed his artistic aspirations.
Capable of outright expression as of sheer delicacy, Abercrombie's personality splits alternately, always "making musical sense, to quote guitarist Jim Hall. But on The Third Quartet, it is the gentler more intimate side of his music that garners attention.
"Number 9, a floating rubato ballad, is especially captivating. Atop a succession of dreamy chords and washes of cymbals, the sleepy melody slowly awakes then very gently lays. Another gem, "Vingt Six, also exemplifies Abercrombie's knack for supporting simply-constructed yet telling melodies with ear-pricking chord progressions. Starting out with a guitar/violin duo, Baron's sparse ride cymbal work later enters propelling a subtle swing waltz feel behind Abercrombie's inspired lines.
"Tres, a minimally-developed descending melody and bass line named after the small Latin American guitar, offers an opportunity to stretch over its more energetic tempo and faster harmonic rhythm as does Ornette Coleman's bluesy "Round Trip. The other cover, pianist Bill Evans' "Epilogue, adds an oriental touch reminiscent of Japanese miniatureshere, the violin substituting the kokyû or its Chinese equivalent, the erhu.
Maybe it's just the nostalgia of the leader's greatly missed acoustic playing; one cannot help but ponder, after listening to the superb closing track "Fine, how a focus on Abercrombie's compositions in an acoustic duo setting (or even solo with overdubs like this track) might be received. Until then, many spins are to be enjoyed from this disc.