This album is so named since it is the third recording of these four musicians and by far it is the most impressive. Previous meetings Cat 'n' Mouse (ECM, 2002) and Class Trip (ECM, 2004) were less impressive. Guitarist John Abercrombie has been recording for ECM since the early 1970s and has produced a prodigious volume of virtually every type of jazz music one could imagine. The Third Quartet places at the very top of his long recording history.
The difference here is the presence and dynamics of violinist Mark Feldman who is a classical musician (although he has played with such diverse artists as John Zorn, Sly and Robbie and Loretta Lynn). Feldman, who debuted as a leader for ECM with 2006's What Exit, is not a jazz violinist who will remind you of Stephane Grappelli, Regina Carter or Stuff Smith. He brings a sense of classical harmonics to The Third Quartet, challenging Abercombie to play with even standards and, in a sense, makes Feldman the real playmaker here.
All of the above can be disregarded on the opening track, "Banshee, which finds Abercrombie traveling in John Scofield funk style territory with Feldman playing a Middle Eastern motif behind him. This is about the most avant-garde of the titles here, with Feldman about as close as he gets to playing in a jazz improvisational manner. In the notes, Feldman reports that with this group, he has been playing freer than ever and he may well have been referring to this track.
With the exception of the opener, however, Feldman's role is to provide an opening and closing melody statement, consisting of beautifully shaded classical violin that does, indeed, fit into the format thanks to the simpatico accompaniment of Abercrombie, drummer Joey Baron's outstanding use of cymbals and percussive washes, and Marc Johnson's superb bass work. Typically, the tenderness of "Vingt Six" is such an example. In addition to the opening and closing, Feldman's solo makes you forget where you are and what he is listening to as per his solo work.
All of the compositions are from Abercrombie with the exception of Ornette Coleman's "Round Trip" and Bill Evans' "Epilogue. On the latter, the Feldman opens with a modal statement (typical of a Bill Evans tune) and when he hands off to Abercrombie, the guitarist continues in an even longer blues-based solo. There are a few tracks where Feldman just about lays out with the exception of playing a unison closing segment with Abercrombie. On the final track, "Fine, Abercrombie essentially plays alone.