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July/August 2002

Marc Copland/John Abercrombie/Kenny Wheeler
That's for Sure
Challenge Records

The title track typifies the stealth nature of That's for Sure. It begins with Abercrombie's guitar out of tempo in a mood of easy E-minor reflection. So that's how it's going to be, you think; after all, he and Wheeler are on loan from ECM. Abercrombie becomes increasingly bluesy in the 16-bar piece and initiates a walking tempo. Copland sneaks in with piano-chord enrichment. Wheeler's trumpet, fat and rich, lays down the melody, which has a kind of wan Appalachian gospel melancholy about it. Over Abercrombie's modified rhythm guitar, Copland plays a solo laced with whimsy. Wheeler improvises, with a blowsy opening phrase like something Red Allen might have played. On his solo, Wheeler manages to be both old-timey and far out and to remind us that he may be the most underrated jazz-trumpet soloist alive. Abercrombie goes down home on his solo, with intimations of a country dance, perhaps a hoedown. The time is solid, irresistible. In a three-way recapitulation of the theme, the piece ends with a peaceful smile on its face.

The performances of the remaining seven compositions by Abercrombie, Wheeler and Copland provide joys and discoveries equal to, but different from, those in "That's for Sure." Wheeler's "#114" and Copland's "Dark Territory" at first seem adrift on the sea of serenity but they, too, turn out to be powered by muscle and wit. For straightahead swing and blowing mastery, the playing on the CD's only standard song, "How Deep Is the Ocean?" wins first prize.

Originally published in July/August 2002
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