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Jazz Fest review: John Abercrombie Quartet

A nuanced performance, but don't call this guitarist a "living legend."


John Abercrombie found himself announced last night as a "living legend." This vexed him. Made it sound as if he was near "off to higher gigging service in a tony celestial supper club." Surely not. Then again, when he, a square-bodied, stiff-jointed, stiff-necked, grandpa-esque guy, shuffled on stage with his bandmates--to a man, seasoned veterans of mainstream jazz, you caught a whiff of venerability. Together those cats looked like a foursome of old cronies who regularly meet in a NYC park to play checkers. Eons back, Abercrombie, with bassist Dave Holland and drummer Jack DeJohnette, bubbled to the top of the then jazz world as rock-jazz fusionistas. Last night, those days and that style long behind him, with remarkable Marc Copland on piano (whose virtually cliche-free inventiveness and accompaniment consistely delighted and boggled the mind), steady, solid, reliable Drew Gress on acoustic bass and Billy Hart, traditionally fulfilling the timekeeper's role on drums, Abercrombie kept to a repertoire of moderately discursive compositions, playing long single-note lines like a horn. Occasionally moments of the ol' pyro-flare of the guitar hero would make a tantalizing appearance. Twice in fact. Both times in self-penned numbers. "Ralph's Piano Waltz." And in a piece he announced as "Riverbend." Posed in an open tuning, which he said, "Gives us a chance to go a little nuts". He lived up to it, setting his guitar to sound like Carlos Santana for unexpected outbursts of fast-fingered fretboard heat. When laying out, Abercrombie gingerly lowered himself onto a white-painted dining room chair, flanked by another, similar, chair that supported an old amp that looked as if it had devotedly shared Abercrombie's 40-year career. Summing up, a nuanced masterful concert of NYC jazz club sophistication by a living legend and artful friends.

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