Sunday, August 9, 2015

John Abercrombie - 1975 "Timeless"

Guitarist John Abercrombie's first in a long line of recordings for ECM was also his debut as a leader. Teamed up with Jan Hammer (who here plays organ, synthesizer, and piano) and drummer Jack DeJohnette, Abercrombie plays four of his originals, plus two by Hammer. These performances differ from many of the guitarist's later ECM dates in that Hammer injects a strong dose of fusion into the music, and there is plenty of spirited interplay between those two with fine support by DeJohnette. Thought-provoking and occasionally exciting music that generally defies categorization.

The Allmusic review by Scott Yanow awarded the album 4½ stars calling it "Thought-provoking and occasionally exciting music that generally defies categorization". The Penguin Guide to Jazz awarded the album 4 stars noting "There's more filigree than flash on the early Timeless and it's left to DeJohnette and the underrated Hammer to give the set the propulsion it calls for... this is a session that has grown in stature with familiarity, an altogether tougher and more resilient label debut than anyone remembers". The Rolling Stone Jazz Record Guide said "Hammer especially plays with astounding fire and grace on this session, some of the finest organ playing he's recorded"

On Timeless, guitarist John Abercrombie spearheads a session with keyboardist Jan Hammer and drummer Jack DeJohnette for a melding of minds in the first degree.

Guitarist John Abercrombie has often been associated with organists, from his formative years in the 1960s with the deep funk of Johnny "Hammond" Smith to the subtle orchestral underpinnings that Dan Wall provides for Abercrombie's 1990s-era bands. This 1974 recording was Abercrombie's first as a leader, and he's joined by Jan Hammer on organ, piano, and synthesizer and Jack DeJohnette on drums. The high-speed exchanges on Hammer's extended "Lungs" immediately invoke John McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra, while his "Red and Orange" recalls Tony Williams's Lifetime band. But Abercrombie makes his own voice apparent even in the fusion idiom, with angular solos that find their own paths through the electric storms. His compositions take varied approaches, invoking the more traditional organ trio on "Ralph's Piano Waltz" and emphasizing melody and space on the title tune. The guitarist also engages Hammer's piano on two reflective duets, "Love Song" and "Remembering," that emphasize his roots in the lyrical style of Jim Hall.

The trio kicks things off in high gear with “Lungs,” a heaping pile of kindling set ablaze by Hammer’s high-octane staccato, DeJohnette’s explosive hi-hat, and Abercrombie’s unusually frenetic fretwork. A sublime energy is maintained throughout and the payoff is supremely satisfying—all the more so for its brevity, as the music suddenly changes avenues just a few minutes in. Hammer relays between organ and synth, keeping the pace (and the funk) through trailing guitar solos that send notes like cosmic fingers flicking galaxies into outer space. The organ smolders quietly in the background before clinching a new groove, which Abercrombie laces with lines flanged just right for the mix. It all ends in a game of musical jump rope, with Abercrombie skipping over the alternation of drums and organ. “Love Song” is true to its name and is the first of two exquisite conversations between piano and acoustic guitar. Just as the organ trailed long rows in the soil of our attention, the piano comes as a welcome rain for our crop and the guitar like the sun that infuses it. This brings us to “Ralph’s Piano Waltz,” a highlight of these six fine offerings. Like the album as a whole, this track is a superlative balancing act. It’s a construct so seamless that if you don’t find your foot tapping during this one, you might want to make sure it’s still attached. The electric leads speak in their respective languages, but also mimic each other along the way. “Red And Orange” is what might result if Bach had survived into the 1970s as a closeted jazz musician, and is another standout in a set of many. “Remembering” is an alluring chain of tableux and the second of the two duets. Abercrombie sustains details the piano seems content to ignore, loosening those threads from their weave. We end with the title track, which builds slowly from a synth drone peppered with guitar musings to a full-on embrace of space.

This evergreen stands tall in the ECM forest. There is no sense of competition, only mutual reveling in a distinctly nuclear sound. One could easily call it fusion, but if anything it is fused with itself, for it has created every element it seeks to combine. Timeless indeed.

Track listing

  1. "Lungs" – 12:10 (Hammer)
  2. "Love Song" – 4:35 (Abercrombie)
  3. "Ralph's Piano Waltz" – 4:55 (Abercrombie)
  4. "Red and Orange" – 5:24 (Hammer)
  5. "Remembering" – 4:33 (Abercrombie)
  6. "Timeless" – 11:57 (Abercrombie)