Thursday, September 17, 2009

The John Abercrombie Quartet: Wait Till You See Her

Wait Till You See Her
By the John Abercrombie Quartet
ECM Records

In 1974, the USSR expelled dissident novelist Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Oskar Schindler passed away, Philippe Petit walked a high wire between the Twin Towers, and jazz guitarist John Abercrombie recorded his first session as a leader for ECM Records. Thirty-three years and twenty-six albums later, Abercrombie is still recording for the label, now fronting a slightly reconfigured quartet that prominently features violinist Mark Feldman on his latest release, Wait Till You See Her.

While guitar and violin are hardly an unheard of combination in jazz, the Abercrombie Quartet is not at all Hot Clubby. Much of the group’s character is actually derived from the sound of the violin, although the music and conception is undeniably Abercrombie’s. Indeed, the plaintive quality of Feldman’s violin is particularly pronounced on the aptly named opener “Sad Song.” Marked by Abercrombie’s thoughtful solo and drummer Joey Baron’s sensitive brush work, it might sound like a counter-intuitive choice to kick-off Wait, but it is certainly a distinctive one.

Conversely, the following “Line-Up” is taken at a more vigorous tempo, yet it is a freer piece that allows the quartet greater latitude for exploring. The sole standard of the set is the Rogers & Hart title track, originally composed for the 1942 musical By Jupiter (which ran just over a year on Broadway for 427 performances, but is not particularly well remembered today). Again, like “Sad Song” it is a lyrical lament that derives much of its tonal colors from Feldman’s contributions.

Feldman then sits out on the most traditionally boppish tune, the logically titled “Trio,” which is quite a virtuoso spotlight for Abercrombie, ably abetted by the rock-solid support of Baron and bassist Thomas Morgan. However, listeners will probably find the strongest melodic hooks in Abercrombie’s “Out of Towner,” as well as a soaring solo from Feldman, contrasting nicely with Wait’s more pensive moments. Indeed, it might be the most radio accessible track of the disk. The Quartet concludes with their most dramatic selection, the spellbinding “Chic of Araby,” which channels exotic sounds and hypnotic rhythms for a truly trance-inducing effect.

Throughout Wait the Quartet’s seamless interplay is quite remarkable. Abercrombie and Feldman deliver consistently inventive jazz solos while combining the discipline of classical chamber music with the openness of freely improvised music. It is an accomplished group that New Yorkers will have an opportunity to hear live when they open at Birdland on September 30th.