Friday, 19 October 2007

John Abercrombie...

Abercrombie crops up on many of my favourite records, yet I'd hardly call him my favourite guitarist. It can't though be any coincidence that he's so omni-present in the music that I choose to listen to for relaxation and/or stimulation.

This recent trio disc didn't really make the cut with me - a fine piece of work but too self-consciously trying to be different in his ouevre. Rather like Jarrett's 'Standards' trio, there's much to admire in terms of the artistry, but not enough grit to to really turn my head.

I'm hard to please, perhaps, and I even felt a tinge of disappointment with the reformed Gateway Trio. Nevertheless, I remain sympathetic to Abercrombie's music...



JOHN ABERCROMBIE TRIO
Structures
CHESKY (SACD 317)

Jazz Folk; The Touch Of Your Lips; Moon And Sand; Walter Pigeon; Everything I Love; Embraceable You; 3 For Three; Turn Out The Stars; Missing You; How Deep Is The Ocean.

John Abercrombie (g); Eddie Gomez (b); Gene Jackson (d).
Recorded March 2006.

This trio was so newly formed that drummer Gene Jackson hadn’t even played with Abercrombie before he walked into St Peter’s Episcopal Church, the unusual downtown Manhattan location for the recording. Both Gomez and Abercrombie have a long association stretching back to the 1970s, and Jackson is known for his ability to blend with any surroundings.

On listening to Structures, you could be forgiven for thinking they’d been together for years, and in a sense of course they have. Playing jazz full-time at the very highest level and interpreting many of the standards found here numerous times, such forms of expression become an integral part of each musician’s make-up, almost coming as naturally as breathing. Abercrombie’s aim was a back-to-basics approach, dispensing with his solid bodied guitar and effects rack to play a jazz arch-top, choosing classic material with minimal arrangement, and launching into improvisations that cling to their melodic starting points as moths to light.

The presence of Gomez inevitably conjures Bill Evans to mind, and this trio shares a great affinity with the pianist with whom he worked for over a decade. Jackson rarely picks up sticks, preferring to caress with brushes. Even the non-standard material sounds like it’s been around for years, so totally classical is the trio’s outlook. Abercrombie, despite this toning-down, is nevertheless recognisable through the Metheny-esque reverb, and his clean articulation and distinctively oblique phrasing are very familiar. It is only on ‘How Deep Is The Ocean’ that the trio really hit the outer limits of form, but their ‘less is more’ approach is surprisingly refreshing.

Other highlights include a latin tinged ‘Everything I Love’, the swinging opener ‘Jazz Folk’, and a tender reading of Evans’ ‘Turn Out The Stars’, where Gomez’ pedigree is very much in plain view. Presented by audiophile label Chesky in Super Audio CD format, and recorded with a single microphone, you can safely turn up the volume and imagine you were there. Abercrombie’s introspective side has surfaced numerous times on past ECM dates, but it has never been more pronounced than on the absorbing and relaxing hour that is Structures.

Fred Grand
(Jazz Review, January 2007)

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