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John Abercrombie and Don Thompson: Yesterdays

Don Phipps By

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The late John Abercrombie's outstanding and extensive recorded legacy includes two duet albums with fellow guitarist Ralph Towner, Sargasso Sea (ECM 2008) and Five Years Later (ECM, 2014), four Gateway trio albums (with bassist Dave Holland and drummer Jack DeJohnette), and three Baseline Trio albums (with bassist Hein van de Geyn and drummer Joe LaBarbera).

Like those albums, Yesterdays finds him at his guitar-picking best, collaborating on this one with bassist Don Thompson. Recorded live in 1992 at Toronto's The Guitar Bar but released in 2019, the set of standards found on this snapshot covers a lot of ground and, although the recording is a bit muddy, demonstrates the duo's ability to explore the many cracks and crevices in the catalog. Thompson appears to have no trouble keeping up with Abercrombie, and both musicians display technical virtuosity plus nimble fingers.

The duo's rendition of George Gershwin's ballad "Embraceable You" is especially noteworthy; it features Thompson's deft exploration of chord harmonics while Abercrombie, like the sun cracking through the mist of an early morning, embraces the melody with just enough string-bending to allow the beauty of the piece to emerge.

Abercrombie was always capable of reeling off notes as if breathing—almost subconsciously; as an example, take his playing on Jimmy Davis' song "Lover Man" (popularized by the immortal Billie Holiday), where, during a Thompson solo, he picks the bass line while playing inversions of jazz chords. At times it sounds like there is another guitarist on the stage.

Thompson navigates up and down the neck of the bass gracefully, with just the right touch. His playing is warm and woody and, wisely, his accompaniment lets Abercrombie fill up the room. His playing on Sammy Fain's standard "Alice In Wonderland" is a case in point. While Abercrombie takes the lead, Thompson follows with a set of exhilarating, cheerful notes.

There is a bit of haunting bravado to Abercrombie's opening of the Bill Evans/Miles Davis tune "Blue In Green" before the piece settles into a dream-like subtlety. Thompson gives Abercrombie plenty of open space to navigate through and around the changes. The album concludes with the playful Ornette Coleman piece, "Turnaround"—Abercrombie offering a light-as-air solo and nifty accompaniment while Thompson walks the bass.

The music of John Abercrombie and Don Thompson on "Yesterdays" is another example of the enduring ability of recorded jazz to reach across the decades with emotional impact. Listeners will most assuredly find themselves drifting off to happy days—days when smiles were real and heartfelt.

Track Listing: Yesterdays; Embraceable You; Alice In Wonderland; Alone Together; Lover Man; Come Rain Or Come Shine; Blue In Green; Turnaround.

Personnel: John Abercrombie: guitar; Don Thompson: bass.

Title: Yesterdays | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: Cornerstone Records Inc.

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