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John Abercrombie: The First Quartet

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With the release of The First Quartet, John Abercrombie’s entire ECM catalog is finally on CD. This box set collects Arcade, Abercrombie Quartet and M, the three albums the guitarist recorded with pianist Richie Beirach, bassist George Mraz and drummer Peter Donald from 1978 to 1980. The music skirts the line between refined and daring, between structure and adventure. Though it is exceedingly pleasant, it retains an element of risk.

All but one of the compositions belong to Abercrombie or Beirach (the final tune is Mraz’s), and they feel like pieces of a whole. The tunes are built on simple motifs, but there is no head-solos-head structure to be found. The musicians solo within group performance, and nobody tries to kill it with a mind-blowing, spotlight-stealing performance. The music is spacious; it breathes. Abercrombie and Beirach play four or five notes where they could play 20. Rhythm is often rubato.

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