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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, Glyn Pursglove, George Stacy, Bert Thompson, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf



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JOHN ABERCROMBIE

Within A Song

278 9531

 

 

1. Where Are You (Harold Adamson/Jimmy McHugh) [5:49]; 2. Easy Reader (John Abercrombie) [6:34]; 3. a) Within A Song (John Abercrombie) b) Without A Song (Vincent Youmans/Billy Rose) [7:55]; 4. Flamenco Sketches (Miles Davis) [6:33]; 5. Nick Of Time (John Abercrombie) [5:54]; 6. Blues Connotation (Ornette Coleman) [6:10]; Wise One (John Coltrane) [9:10]; 8. Interplay [6:24] (Bill Evans); 9. Sometime Ago (Sergio Mihanovich) [6:25]

John Abercrombie (guitar), Joe Lovano (tenor sax), Drew Gress (Bass), Joey Baron (drums)

rec. Avatar Studios, New York, USA September 2011. Engineer: James A. Farber

[61:15]

 

Though ECM's Manfred Eicher wanted American jazz guitarist John Abercrombie to centre his latest disc on someone who has influenced him in the past Abercrombie chose instead to pay tribute to several of his musical muses as well as including three of his own compositions. As he explains in the booklet he is a child of the 60s in which great changes were taking place politically, economically socially, as well as musically with the advent of the post-bop era in which new directions in jazz were everywhere to be found and there was a real excitement in the air. Though the term post bop was not coined at the time of its development it is now seen as a distillation of elements of many styles in jazz including bebop, hard bop, free jazz and the avant-garde as well as others with its expression being captured and disseminated mainly by Blue Note Records. The exponents of this new style are some of the greatest names in jazz and several of them are paid homage to on this disc. One of the essential ingredients of post-bop is the small combo and John Abercrombie has three musicians who along with him embody that very essence. Abercrombie himself is a composer of note and his three entries perfectly complement the big names in post-bop writing represented here. One of Abercrombie's major influences was Miles Davis, who is said to be the composer of Flamenco Sketches, while others give Bill Evans the credit, when in fact the piece is as close as can be to pure improvisation in that the melody was not written down but each musician improvised over a set of scales they were given that that their instrument could work with so, even more than usual in jazz, the piece was never the same twice. The original appeared on the 1959 album Kind of Blue which subsequently became the biggest selling jazz record of all time. The track featured Miles Davis and two others whose work is represented on the disc: John Coltrane and Bill Evans, as well as Cannonball Adderley and his rhythm section comprising Paul Chambers on bass and Jimmy Cobb on drums and, together with an earlier experiment with this method of working on Milestones, "modal jazz" was born. It must be difficult for those for whom jazz is a closed book to understand the concept of interpretation being of paramount importance over the constraints of every note being the same every time. On that album today there's always an alternative take added, a feature often repeated on jazz albums implying that nothing should be written in stone. Abercrombie takes the broad outlines of Flamenco Sketches and his quartet produce their take on it maintaining its relaxed, laid back feel and produce a very effective version of great beauty with Lovano producing a lovely fat sound that echoes the great Coltrane while Abercrombie takes on Miles' role with his gorgeous guitar work and Drew Gress and Joey Baron anchor proceedings with superb restraint, Baron just allowing his sticks or brushes to kiss his cymbals. The result is proof of Abercrombie's understandable reverence for the original. Blues Connotation by Ornette Coleman allows Abercrombie to explore a piece by one of jazz's greatest ever innovators whose entry on the jazz scene 50 years ago must have been truly explosive. Abercrombie's interpretation is highly successful with some brilliant sax from Lovano and again amazingly gentle cymbals from Baron. John Coltrane to some I know is a name that means an influence they see as harmful to the jazz that came after as his influence was such that they feel that many simply tried to match him rather than seek their own path, while I see him as one of the greatest ever influences on jazz, pushing others to new heights. Coltrane's Wise One is a case in point on this disc in which the quartet uses the tune as a point of departure to find its own interpretation - there's no slavish attempt to simply match or outdo Coltrane, though, as with the other influences on this disc it does show how marvellous a composer Coltrane was and why he achieved the reverence jazz history justifiably awards him. Bill Evans' Interplay, the penultimate tune on this disc, is also treated to a wonderfully sympathetic treatment in this quartet's capable hands which serves to emphasise Evans' fantastic contribution to jazz composition and the recording itself is a tribute to Engineer James Farber's keen sensibilities. The final lovely track is by Sergio Mihanovich, the Argentinian composer who by a quirk of fate died a day before his 75th birthday just a week before this disc was released on 14th May. It is Mihanovich's best known composition and this version is a fitting tribute to him with its gentle rhythm and Lovano's sax floating mellifluously above the other three. I said earlier that Abercrombie is no mean composer himself and his three contributions to the disc certainly show that and I especially enjoyed Easy Reader and the album's title track Within a Song that is set alongside Vincent Youmans and Billy Roses' Without a Song. The disc opener too is a soft and gentle version of Where Are You from the pen of Harold Adamson and Jimmy McHugh. The whole album fulfils its remit of showcasing Abercrombie's major influences and his interpretations of some of their songs are thoughtful and reverential in the best sense resulting in an extremely rewarding and beautifully put together disc of real quality.

Steve Arloff



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