Although John Abercrombie has done his fair share of experimentation over the years, at the heart of his work is a musicality-as evident throughout Timeline and Animations-that has led him to work with many of the finest musicians in contemporary jazz, including Michael Brecker, Jack DeJohnette and the late Michel Petrucciani.
On Timeline, pianist Andy LaVerne joins Abercrombie for a musical celebration of the influential, historic collaborations between Jim Hall and Bill Evans, who laid to rest notions that the harmonic properties of the guitar and piano were incompatible. Many of the tunes may be the same as those played by Hall and Evans; however, don't get the idea that this is somehow a re-creation; Abercrombie and LaVerne bring their own values and sensibilities to bear throughout the set. One element that Abercrombie and LaVerne share with Hall and Evans, however, is their conversational rapport, something that is particularly evident on tunes like "My Funny Valentine" (check out how Abercrombie updates Hall's role by playing walking bass lines behind LaVerne at one point) and the beautiful reading of "Darn That Dream," where guitar and piano seamlessly meld voices. Departing a bit from the Hall/Evans theme, LaVerne brings three original compositions to the table, including the lightly swinging "Inner Voice" and "Adagio," which closes the program on a lyrical note.
Over the years, Abercrombie has worked with a number of guitarists, including John Scofield and Ralph Towner. On Animations he teams with guitarist John Basile for a series of duets that, unlike Timeline, at points venture beyond the tonal into an area often described as "new music." Abercrombie's affinity for tradition is evident during the fresh-sounding reading of "Sweet and Lovely" and a grooving "Nobody Else but Me," both with fine solos and moments of inspired counterpoint. Thrown into the mix, however, are more experimental performances like "Paws," a brief foray into the realm of dissonance, texture and extended techniques, and "Desert Storm," a moody, atmospheric piece for which Basile fires up his guitar synth. The disc's more experimental pieces succeed individually, but when mixed in with the more traditional material it adds up to a stylistic disconnect that will have some listeners scratching their heads. Aside from playing solo, duo performance is arguably the most difficult to pull off. With these two discs, Abercrombie demonstrates his uncommon ability to artfully function within the context of a wide variety of material and situations.