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John Abercrombie Quartet: Within a Song

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Guitarist John Abercrombie, saxophonist Joe Lovano, bassist Drew Gress and drummer Joey Baron construct a mesmerizing fire in this tribute to the (mostly) ’60s jazz that shaped Abercrombie’s musical tastes. Produced by Manfred Eicher in typical crystalline ECM fashion, Within a Song plays tricks with its role models, pushing envelopes that were elastic to begin with.

Abercrombie and his empaths start with an insinuating take on “Where Are You,” from Sonny Rollins’ The Bridge; Lovano’s soft solo keeps the tune at ember level. The pace quickens with “Easy Reader,” Abercrombie’s serpentine homage to the game-changing film Easy Rider. Then comes the album’s core, “Within a Song/Without a Song.” Abercrombie skeletonizes Jim Hall’s interpretation of the latter, Lovano lightly channels Rollins, Gress reanimates Bob Cranshaw’s pushy lines and Baron rides his cymbals hard. The excitement level rises considerably in this blend/transformation. Gress’ bubbly solo is a blast, Baron’s stereo-panned drums are dramatic and Lovano’s playing over Abercrombie’s querulous single-note lines provides a sharp bridge to the outro.

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