Posted by Rick Frystak, September 4, 2017 02:12pm | Post a Comment

-photo Doug Proper

by Rick Frystak

Guitarist John Laird Abercrombie passed away of heart failure last week at the age of 72, too young an age for an artist who had so many more years of creativity left. John was one of my all-time favorite guitarists, one of only a handful of unique, tasteful ''jazz-rock'' guitarists who managed to create his own style and mature with it for all the years that he was active and making records.

John's playing had a swing, a lilt, perhaps a swaying effect that was captivating and had me eagerly anticipating his notes to see where he would go with a tune or a solo. His songs were quite often effectively moody and dark which I loved, but alternately funky, and always a good melody but left room for discovery. When he really let go, as he soon highlighted on his early solo records and the Billy Cobham big band records he could bring the house down. But when he turned inward, it was like telling a secret or a heartbreaking whisper. And his compositional directions were such an amalgamation of the old standard beauty and a new, ear-bending edginess.

I first heard John on the small, independent Oblivion label album, Friends, featuring Marc Cohen playing a searing electric alto sax, inspiring John to higher highs of energy I'd rarely heard outside of heavy rock, the whole group developing music that would be years ahead of it's time. Then came his first of a 43-year ECM Records relationship, the immortal, iconic Timeless, with Jack DeJohnette  and Jan Hammer (fresh out of Mahavishnu Orchestra and Billy Cobham's fantastic Spectrum album),which took the heaviness and beauty and made some of the most intense trio jazz since Tony Williams' Lifetime. He excelled in the trio format, and in his group with Peter Erskine and Marc Johnson they swung hard, burned.  He released his last ECM record this year, Up And Coming, which would be, as the press kit notes, his first album played without a pick, just using his fingers. This sound seems more buttery and lyrical, perhaps like a fine scotch,  the tempering of John's later-career approach and character.

Mr. Abercrombie played all types of guitars, electric and acoustic, solid and hollow body, and classical as well. Throughout his career and collaborations with Dreams, Ralph Towner, Vince Mendoza, Dave Holland, Jack DeJohnette, Peter Erskine, John Surman, the Breckers among many others, John sought to keep moving forward and forward. He importantly pioneered the use of the guitar synthesizer in jazz to great effect, as well as the electric mandolin, (heavily featured in Jack DeJohnette's groups), always sounding like himself no matter what the tool or context. It seems to me that any project John participated in he owned, his singular riffs speaking his entire legacy, which, fortunately, is ours to treasure forever.

Rest in peace with love, John Abercrombie, 1944-2017.


A few suggested titles:

Timeless, ECM, 1974

Sargasso Sea (duo w/Ralph Towner), ECM, !976

Characters (solo), ECM, 1977

John Abercrombie, Dave Holland, Jack DeJohnette, Gateway 2, ECM, 1978

Night, ECM, !984

Current Events, ECM, 1985

Animato, ECM, 1989

John Abercrombie, Marc Johnson, Peter Erskine, ECM, 1989

Up & Coming, ECM, 2017



Relevant Tags

Blilly Cobham (1), John Surman (1), Peter Erskine (3), Jack Dejohnette (2), J (1), Jazz Rock (4), Tony Williams (4), Jazz Rock Guitar (2), Jazzfusion (2), Jazzrock (2), Jazz (150), John Abercrombie (1), Dreams (5), Ralph Towner (2), Vince Mendoza (6), Dave Holland (1), Jan Hammer. Ecm Records (1), Rick Frystak (11)