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The John Abercrombie Quartet plays Kuumbwa Jazz in Santa Cruz, Monday Feb. 10, 2014
By Eric Berg | KUSP BergAlert
After almost fifty years of playing both traditional and progressive jazz and appearing on at least that many albums, guitarist John Abercrombie’s resume of the recordings he’s made and the people he’s played with has got to be a s thick an issue of DownBeat Magazine. His latest is called “39 Steps”. It’s Abercrombie’s 32nd album leading his own group.
The guitarist has revamped his previous quartet so this album features longtime buds, pianist Marc Copland, Drew Gress bass and long time drummer Joey Baron . Of the 10 tracks, all are original songs by Abercrombie and band members with the exception of their take on “Melancholy Baby”.
When Abercrombie was a 60’s Boston teenager and the Berkelee School of music student, he listened to a lot of post bop jazz guitarists, in particular, Jim Hall who was a major source of inspiration. At the beginning of the 70’s rock bands started messing with jazz and jazz musicians messed with rock, so Abercrombie joined the funk-horn band Dreams who mined the same vein as Chicago and Blood Sweat & Tears. They made two albums before disbanding in 1972 but the band served as a fusion incubator not only for Abercrombie but also for The Becker Brothers, drummer Billy Cobham, bassist Will Lee, and many others who did stints with Dreams and are now well known including the guitarist’s current pianist, Copland. Here’s Abercrombie playing on lead on “Devil Lady” from Dream’s self titled first album.
After Dreams fell apart and became a nightmare, Abercrombie signed with ECM Records and started exploring fusion and progressive jazz making a long series of memorable albums one of which is a favorite of mine, “Sargasso Sea” with Ralph Towner from 1976.
Brilliant Playing by Band Members.
On his current release, “39 Steps” Abercrombie has come almost full circle with a return to a more traditional and softer contemporary set of jazz originals that fit nicely with the contributions from his stellar bandmates. Only one track gets slightly “out there”. Perhaps Abercrombie is mellowing with age, but on this album his guitar is overshadowed by the brilliant playing of his fellow cohorts – especially pianist Mark Copland – who are doing most of the climbing on these “39 Steps”. – Eric Berg