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John Abercrombie Quartet: The Third Quartet

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In jazz, it seems, it pays to be in your face or achingly sweet. Veteran guitarist John Abercrombie is neither. Though more nimble than most, he shows little interest in guitar heroism. And his playing, which is recognizable for its rich, silvery tone, is melodic, but never explicitly so. He is, in other words, the sort of jazz musician who must bide his time to get his due. When that happens, Abercrombie’s current quartet will no doubt be regarded as one of the era’s best. Back again for its third ECM recording, Abercrombie’s band-which includes violinist Mark Feldman, bassist Marc Johnson and drummer Joey Baron-provides uncommon support. The three musicians-all leaders in their own right-adapt their playing styles to match the way in which the guitarist flitters around his fretboard. At times, it’s impossible to tell who’s doing what. Was that a flurry of notes on the ride cymbal or on the electric guitar? Feldman, especially, blurs the line between the quartet’s two melodic instruments. He not only mimics the simmering sound that comes from Abercrombie’s amp, he also echoes the bossman’s miniature motifs. There are no weak points in this band’s discography, but The Third Quartet might be the best of all three. It’s certainly the most symbiotic.