Recorded June 2006 at Avatar Studios, New York
Third Quartet is the third album by this rather astonishing group of musicians under guitarist and composer John Abercrombie's leadership. His collaborators: drummer Joey Baron, violinist Mark Feldman, and bassist Marc Johnson are all accomplished leaders in their own rights, but as they team with Abercrombie, something unusual, unwieldy, and utterly transformative takes place. Feldman is such a worthy foil for the guitarist. The call is the response in tunes like "Banshee" and "Wishing Bell," the counterpoint in "Tres," and the gorgeously simple harmonic extrapolations in "Number Nine," with its spacious and slippery melody, accent each man's greatest strength. For Feldman it's in the ear. He doesn't simply follow Abercrombie, he underscores him, he journeys from him and illumines his violin's particularly colorful tonalities in contrast to Abercrombie's warm and buttery tone. The ensemble symbiosis is at its height on tunes like Ornette Coleman's "Round Trip," which is begun by Baron and followed by Johnson, followed by Abercrombie and then Feldman. That said, the ensemble interplay near the end of tune, stretching Coleman's lyric line to the breaking point, is almost breathtaking. The other cover here, following immediately after, is Bill Evans' "Epilogue." Here, the sheer tenderness and emotion of Evans' composition are evident from the moment Abercrombie and Feldman begin playing together. Feldman's nearly modal approach to the actual head is startling at first, but the pacing, and Abercrombie's trademark sparse phrasing, are where the genius that is Evans' displays itself. Abercrombie and Feldman re-read the tune through its mode, and Johnson's skeletal playing of the changes keeps its from being entirely spectral. Baron's cymbal washes here are especially poignant. It feels more like an elegy, but there is no doubt that is its intention. This is a most welcome and beautiful addition to this particular group's musical language as well as their catalog.
All Music Guide
The third recording by John Abercrombie's exceptional quartet with Mark Feldman, Marc Johnson and Joey Baron, is issued in the 33rd year of his association with ECM. A lot of music has flowed, in many contexts, since 1974, but Abercrombie's priorities have remained unchanged. He still sees himself as a player in the jazz guitar tradition of Wes Montgomery and Jim Hall, remains committed to improvisation influenced by both the eruptive melodic invention of Ornette Coleman and the lyrical sensitivity of Bill Evans, still writes highly distinctive material for his colleagues and grants them a great deal of room for expression inside it. As violinist Mark Feldman recently remarked to All About Jazz, this interpretive freedom, gratefully accepted by the band, results in the most committed performances. Joey Baron has put it more simply: "Every night is a blast".
Mark Feldman has been working with Abercrombie for a decade already and the partnership - first heard on disc on 1998's "Open Land" has brought fresh colours into the music. Guitar/violin frontlines in jazz go back a long way - Eddie Lang and Joe Venuti, Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grapelli are early instances... Abercrombie and Feldman know the heritage but take the music to new places. Add Marc Johnson as the third member of this group's 'string section' - guitar, violin, double-bass - and sonorities are sometimes closer to contemporary composed music. Abercrombie: "I guess you could say that with the current quartet, I'm playing more freely than ever. I think this is due mostly to the players (of course), and to the instrumentation. The free improvs sound more like chamber music, and not so much like free jazz. Even though the playing sounds free, I think it's also becoming more traditional. The freer more open playing feeds the more traditional playing ..." Drummer Joey Baron can augment the group with colouristic playing or drive it with tremendous elan. In brief, this quartet is an improvising chamber group and a hot jazz combo - sometimes both in the space of a single tune.
Specific roots in Ornette and Evans are honoured this time with a composition by each of them. Abercrombie has often played Coleman's strongly swinging, bluesy "Round Trip", a piece that first appeared on Ornette's 1968 "New York Is Now", where Coleman and Dewey Redman were joined by the rhythm section of Coltrane's classic quartet: Jimmy Garrison and Elvin Jones. Jones, whose vast influence has touched every contemporary jazz drummer, is also remembered here with "Elvin" a soulful tribute written by Abercrombie.
"Epilogue" is the Evans tune, originally on the 1958 recording "Everybody Digs Bill Evans", revived on the 1966 "Bill Evans At Town Hall". Marc Johnson played with Evans at the end of the great pianist's life. "Coming out of the Bill Evans Trio, my idea of the role of the bass in a rhythm section was to be an active and participatory voice, to support the harmony and groove but also to respond and provoke." Johnson's work with Abercrombie, initially in the trio with Peter Erskine (founded 1983), was his first major musical alliance after Evans. "It was thrilling, and placed new demands on me to complete the harmony simultaneously as an accompanist and as a counter-voice." Alongside his projects with Abercrombie - and inspired by them - Johnson led the exceptional band Bass Desires (with Bill Frisell and John Scofield) in the 1980s. His most recent leader disc for the label is "Shades of Jade", with Eliane Elias, Joe Lovano, John Scofield and Joey Baron. Other ECM credits include work with Charles Lloyd, Ralph Towner and Dino Saluzzi.