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Friday, September 20, 2013

CD Review: John Abercrombie Quartet - 39 Steps.

John Abercrombie (gtr); Marc Copland (pno); Drew Gress (bs); Joey Baron (dms).
(Review by Lance)
Copland and Abercrombie go way back having played in a number of bands together starting with the Chico Hamilton Quartet some 40 years ago so this is no "Pleased to meet you, what shall we play?" session. Instead it's two guys familiar with each other's musical thinking which of course is important in a quartet containing two chordal instruments. Gress and Baron have also had long associations with Abercrombie and Copland's own bands so the scene was set fair for a meeting of kindred spirits.
As the album title implies several of the tracks are inspired by Hitchcock films - Vertigo, Spellbound, Shadow of a Doubt and 39 Steps. Like the films, the music is deep and mysterious, gently probing, asking questions, looking for answers and finding them. Abercrombie wrote 6 of the pieces, Copland 2, there's a collective improvisation and, wait for it, My Melancholy Baby! Take it from me it's like no other Melancholy Baby you've ever heard. A musical jigsaw with some pieces missing - love it!
Guitar and piano blend almost as one throughout with Gress playing counter lines and Baron punctuating with cymbal clashes, snare drum rolls and rhythmic patterns inspired by what's going on around him.
For someone who was once at the cutting edge Abercrombie has mellowed in a most delightful fashion. In his own words, "Along the way my playing has become both more free and more traditional." Indeed only on the collectively improvised Shadow of a Doubt does his freer side emerge and it's hardly a fire in a pet shop - not even a storm in a teacup!
Copland too, once the wildman of the electric saxophone, is now a deeply contemplative pianist patterned in the Bill Evans school of explorative improvisation.
Another gem from ECM - Without a Shadow of a Doubt!
The CD by the John Abercrombie Quartet - 39 Steps is due for release by ECM on Sept. 23 Ref ECM 374 2710.
Lance.

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