The tender bull of the jazz guitar

John Abercrombie

John Abercrombie

Rosendale Café hosts John Abercrombie this Friday

n 1973, a few years before his first session as leader, the guitarist John Abercrombie was a member of an early and especially manic fusion group called Friends whose hard-to-find eponymous debut sounds like it was performed a few  rooms away from the one with the microphones in it, in some bunker deep behind the Iron Curtain. In this warped and remote transmission from some free-but-disturbed musical future, all the elements and influences of first-gen fusion show themselves in the scramble: some Miles, some Ornette and a lot of mad rock and Mahavishnu drumming. A rocked-out Abercrombie duels and dances with Mark Cohen’s heavily effected electric saxophone. Due as much to its bizarre production as to its unique, noisy, psychedelic shredding, it’s a total trip, and well-worth the effort.

But 1975 was the real John Abercrombie’s year of coming out. Supported by drummer Jack DeJohnette and keyboardist Jan Hammer, the ECM release Timeless stands as Abercrombie’s definitive early artistic statement and a “place” to which he has returned often throughout his long and prolific career: a place of dwelling, impressionistic, harmonically open mood pieces counterbalanced by a few fusion workouts courtesy of Hammer.

Later in 1975 came the influential Gateway, also on ECM, the first in a multi-decade series of recordings by the great Woodstockcentric trio of Abercrombie, DeJohnette and bassist/composer Dave Holland. Later Gateway releases would become more song-oriented, but the first one teases with a little accessible groove jazz before departing to the land of dissonant, there-is-no-one-so-stop-counting long-form improvisations by some stunningly liberated, empathic and resourceful players. Many of those long, free-jazz jams find Abercrombie beginning in a default jazz tone and working his way out to a fried, fluid rock sound that recalls that Friends record.

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All of which is to say that John Abercrombie is not only a genuinely important figure in the narrative of the jazz guitar, but also one with several discrete personalities right from the outset, starting with the duality of sweet and squawk, and eventually coming to embrace an additional identity as a fabulous straight-ahead jazz player in the Jim Hall mode, with a jazz tone to kill or die for.

I need to pause here to remind the readership that when 99.9 percent of Americans stop by the local café to catch a little jazz, it is most definitely not John Abercrombie they are going to see – or Brad Mehldau, or Dave Liebman, or Don Byron, or Jack DeJohnette, or Dan Tepfer, or Marilyn Crispell, or Joe Lovano, or Bobby Previte, or…you get the idea. These intimate performances by locally residing masters and living legends are so routine around here that it is all too easy to take them for granted. It speaks to jazz’s two- or three-decade commercial slump, certainly, but also to the cultural and natural resources of your neighborhood. Enjoy it while you can.

John Abercrombie – kind of the tender bull of the jazz guitar – just doesn’t stop producing: 50 releases and counting. Catch him with his current trio, with drummer Bob Meyer and bassist Rusty Holloway, at the Rosendale Café on Friday, October 30 at 8 p.m. Admission costs a mere $15. The Rosendale Café is located at 434 Main Street in Rosendale. For more information, call (845) 658-9048 or visit https://rosendalecafe.com.

 

John Abercrombie Trio, Friday, October 30, 8 p.m., $15, Rosendale Café, 434 Main Street, Rosendale; (845) 658-9048, https://rosendalecafe.com.

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