John Abercrombie: The Third Quartet (ECM)

abercrombie.jpgAbercrombie ascends and transcends on this disc, released earlier this year. The Third Quartet achieves a level of sublimity this ensemble flirted with on their previous two superb outings, Cat 'n Mouse (2002) and Class Trip (2003). Abercrombie, in pursuit of “a more acoustic” sounding band relative to his earlier units (he seems to re-invent his bands about every five years or three to four recordings) has evolved a spatial ambience inclusive of his quietest acoustic musings and the energy of his most bombastic electric playing with a stunning subtlety, with violinist Mark Feldman’s additional intuitive intertwining and creative violin contributing to the overall chamber jazz atmosphere.

The ten tracks here come in at just 15 seconds under an hour. All are Abercrombie’s compositions except Ornette Coleman’s “Round Trip” and “Epilogue” by Bill Evans. Baron, one of jazz’s best in a newer generation of drummers, is especially fine on “Elvin” (a nod to the late great Elvin Jones), from the intro’s shimmering cymbal work through the ultra cool loose bluesy central theme to his articulate solo at the end. Classically trained, Mark Feldman was once a Nashville studio fiddler who appeared on hundreds of C&W recordings, including Willie Nelson’s and Johnny Cash’s. He’s also an acclaimed jazz composer and improviser playing with musicians from John Abercrombie to John Zorn. It is his stringed voice that brings the new unique element, almost a sonic missing link, to Abercrombie’s music. On “Number 9” (not the old Beatles tune!) his playing is ethereal; on the Ornette piece, Feldman jumps in a bit over three and a half minutes into the tune, meshing with the guitar for some great angular bopping. Feldman has a knack for the seamless melding of classical and contemporary in a way not heard before in jazz violin. Throughout, Marc Johnson’s signature acoustic bass playing, extrapolative yet unobtrusive, provides subtle, articulate bottom. Johnson and Baron are band leaders as well; Johnson’s 2005 disc Shades of Jade is of classic status, Baron’s discography includes the elusive (but worth seeking out) Killer Joey, which alternately rocks, funks, and has beautifully ambient passages.

Perhaps the most relevant, substantial jazz guitarist of the past 30 years, Abercrombie has been the kind of pathfinder that is an inspiration to others who follow the call of contemporary jazz guitar. More marketable types such as the radio-friendly Pat Metheny, the overly prolific redundant sonic squanderings of John Scofield, even the same day, different backdrop of the talented Bill Frisell just can’t walk the same creative terrain Abercrombie maps out. The Third Quartet is not just another recording for him, it’s another level of evolution musically in a sonically brilliant career. - Tali Madden

John Abercrombie Quartet - The Third Quartet

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Mr. Madden escaped New York a few decades ago, and still misses his egg creams. Aside from a brief flirtation with the Desert Southwest, he's been damply ensconced for half his life in Portland, Oregon. The freelance writer has written extensively on blues and jazz for outlets including the late Blues Access magazine, contributed to the MusicHound Blues and Jazz album guides, and produced and programmed jazz broadcasts for public radio.

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