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John Abercrombie Quartet: 39 Steps

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When the personnel on a record include John Abercrombie, Marc Copland, Drew Gress and Joey Baron, expectations are high. 39 Steps provides many nice moments when lyricism emerges from the interface of Abercrombie’s guitar and Copland’s piano, like ice crystallizing. But this is a curious project, so languid it often feels listless.

The problem is not lack of trust among the players. Abercrombie and Copland have played together occasionally for 40 years, and both have employed Gress and Baron in their bands. But Abercrombie has not recorded as a leader for ECM with a pianist since the mid-1980s. It is striking how different an Abercrombie album sounds when another chordal instrument is present, operating in an overlapping tonal range. There is little open musical space. Abercrombie’s flickering aural imagery, normally incisive, is softened, even blurred, by Copland’s overlays.

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