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John Abercrombie Quartet: Up and Coming

Mark Sullivan By

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Up and Coming is the second release by this version of the John Abercrombie Quartet, following 39 Steps (ECM, 2013). It further cements the longtime relationship between Abercrombie and pianist Marc Copland, which extends back to when both were playing in Chico Hamilton's band in the early '70s (Copland was still playing alto saxophone then, before deciding to concentrate on the piano). They have recorded together many times: two notable examples before joining forces in this quartet are Copland's Another Place (Pirouet, 2008) and Five on One (Pirouet, 2010), a quintet recording with Dave Liebman under the group name Contact. In addition to other associations, drummer Joey Baron has been part of Abercrombie's groups since the quartet with violinist Mark Feldman made their debut with Cat 'n' Mouse (ECM, 2000), while bassist Drew Gress first joined on Within a Song (ECM, 2012) with saxophonist Joe Lovano.

So there is a lot of shared playing experience to draw on, along with considerable group chemistry. They ease into the program with the gentle "Joy" (clearly not the exuberant kind), while the up-tempo "Flipside" is built around a classic Abercrombie melody line. The same could be said of "Sunday School," a long winding line which the band takes its time exploring. The title tune's lyrical swing provides space for a fine bass solo from Gress. Miles Davis' "Nardis" is the one cover in the set. They ease into it slowly, playing the well-known theme rubato at first. Once in tempo they maintain the same easy, conversational approach. While it is not a radical rearrangement, the group makes this classic their own.

This instrumental combination inevitably recalls Abercrombie's first quartet with pianist Richie Beirach. There is certainly a comparable fellow-feeling. Abercrombie praises Copland's ability to go beyond what is written on the page, expanding his tunes in ways he would not have thought of himself. Beirach contributed about half of the compositions in the earlier band's book. Copland has less impact as a writer, with only two tunes on this set (the same number as the previous album). But they compliment Abercrombie's pieces nicely—just a bit more elaborate harmonically and structurally, yet not so much that they sound like they belong with a different band.

Four years is a long time between releases, but it was worth the wait. Here's hoping for more from this quartet. And sooner rather than later.

Track Listing: Joy; Flipside; Sunday School; Up and Coming; Tears; Silver Circle; Nardis; Jumbles.

Personnel: John Abercrombie: guitar; Marc Copland: piano; Drew Gress: double bass; Joey Baron: drums.

Title: Up and Coming | Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: ECM Records

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