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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.

Next up for conversion: “Flamenco Sketches,” from Kind of Blue. This is watery, splashy, more sketch than flamenco. Then comes “Nick of Time,” an original, which gives Abercrombie room to stretch. His melodies are devious, his tunes more mesh and parallel than statements alternating with variations. Oddly, one of the album’s most accessible tracks is a relatively tumultuous treatment of “Blues Connotation.” In this restrained but radical context, Ornette Coleman’s tune sounds conventional.|

While Lovano’s tone is pungent in the Coleman, it’s wide and plush in “Wise One,” a gorgeous late-Coltrane ballad. Tone bends, phrases stretch, the rhythm section goes cavernous. That mature, restive track leads into a filigreed interpretation of Bill Evans and Jim Hall’s “Interplay,” and the album closes with “Sometime Ago,” a warm tune associated with the Art Farmer-Jim Hall Quartet. Good concept, flawless execution.

Originally Published