John Abercrombie – Within a Song
(ECM 278 9531. CD review by Chris Parker)
Encouraged by ECM’s Manfred Eicher to make an album paying tribute to a particular jazz artist or composer, guitarist John Abercrombie eventually decided on a wider remit: ‘to look at the era when my own musical tastes developed … mostly post-bebop jazz albums’.
His chief inspiration was ‘Without a Song’, played by Sonny Rollins and Jim Hall on the former’s legendary recording The Bridge (‘I thought: “That’s the best thing I’ve ever heard!” So for this new album I wrote songs based on it’), but Bill Evans, Art Farmer, Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane were also crucial influences, their music, in Abercrombie’s words, giving the then aspiring musician ‘a place to live’.
Accordingly, he leads a dream band (tenor player Joe Lovano, bassist Drew Gress, drummer Joey Baron) through a selection of pieces associated with these 1960s figures – Davis’s ‘Flamenco Sketches’, Coleman’s ‘Blues Connotation’, Coltrane’s ‘Wise One’ among them – plus a few judiciously selected originals that nod to the stylistic innovations of the same era, producing what ECM’s publicity accurately calls ‘a modern jazz primer, but … also much more’.
The ‘much more’, of course, is the result of the instantly recognisable contributions of Abercrombie’s stellar bandmates: Lovano has one of the most texturally varied sounds in the music, his tenor producing everything from a pleasantly hoarse slither to a smoky warble as required; Gress is characteristically full-toned and surefooted throughout; Baron deploys his malleted toms, breathing cymbals and sudden rustles and crackles to great effect.
It is Abercrombie himself, though, whose quiet virtuosity, musicianly intensity and faultless dynamic and textural control set the tone for this impeccable and clearly deeply felt album.