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January/February 2000

John Abercrombie
Open Land
ECM Records

John Abercrombie is, by this juncture, ECM's house guitarist, whose association with the label goes back a quarter century. And it's a quietly remarkable discography that he has amassed with the label that Manfred Eicher built. Points of consistency throughout-including the use of ethereal organ (remember the spacious Jan Hammer matchup of the late '70s, Timeless) and harmonies leaning towards Europe, not to mention his own searching, signature voice on guitar. Open Land, a reflective and diverse outing, is among the finer things the guitarist has yet produced, and also one of the most texturally varied.
In this bassless setting, Abercrombie is joined by frequent collaborators Dan Wall on organ and Adam Nussbaum on drums. That core group is joined, at various points, by trumpeter Kenny Wheeler, and the fresh voices of Joe Lovano on saxophone-whose sound fits in nicely with the broad ECM aesthetic-and Mark Feldman on violin, whose rich yet gamey approach suits Abercrombie's vision nicely. In "Gimme Five," the 5/4 meter flows in a curving, but propulsive way, and "Spring Song" has a verdant waltz feel, open and probing, while all on board contribute to the improv-driven "Free Piece Suit(e)." "That's for Sure," the album's light-spirited closer, sounds like a Scofield-esque shuffle with its head in the clouds, one of the places the guitarist likes to hang out. Abercrombie continues to carve out a trend-free niche all his own in the guitar world. Timeless remains the operative word.

Originally published in January/February 2000
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