John Abercrombie: Rarum XIV: Selected Recordings (2004)
Through its Rarum series, initiated in 2002, ECM has encouraged its artists to select among their own recordings to best illustrate their ECM years. Guitarist John Abercrombie has wisely chosen to represent his 30 year career with the label by offering ten tracks arranged in chronological fashion. Abercrombie, Keith Jarrett, and Jan Garbarek are probably the most prolific artists on the label. In listening to the wide range of music, one is taken with the enormity of a three decades in terms of musical trends and consistent performance by the musicians. Abercrombie presents his recordings as a leader, sideman and with ongoing co-operative groups. I'm disappointed that there was no room to include his ventures with Collin Walcott, Charles Lloyd or Garbarek, but perhaps that will be in the future.
The album begins with a 1974 recording, "Timeless," with Jan Hammer and Jack DeJohnette. The guitar has a reflective quality that would later be associated with the Pat Metheny sound. The addition of Hammer's synth and organ work lend a mystical quality to the performance. "Sorcery I," an eleven minute rave-up from 1975 that one could liken to a Terje Rypdal performance (on the same label), has enough heat to make any Jimi Hendrix fan feel welcome. This was the first recording of the Gateway Trio with Dave Holland and DeJohnette. From day to night, Abercrombie next duets with guitarist Ralph Towner on an acoustic performance, "Avenue"; and then in solo on "Memoir." It isn't until Track 5, "Stray," that we hear a traditional jazz rhythm section. Playing electric mandolin alongside Richie Beirach, George Mraz and Peter Donald, this was the mainstream Abercrombie at his best (and the first use of piano in this compilation).
The album skips the 1980s entirely and, after a trio recording with Marc Johnson and Peter Erskine ("Big Music"), we are treated to a tasty track from the 1990 Kenny Wheeler Quintet, "Ma Belle Helene," also including John Taylor, Holland and Erskine. From 1992's collaboration with organist Dan Wall and Adam Nussbaum, "Carol's Carol" is a retro look at '60s organ groups. Another track from the on-going Gateway Trio in 1994 takes a long twelve minute ride on "Homecoming." In comparison with the earlier effort, this one is a lot more listenable and intense on a much different level. The final track, "Convolution," shows Abercrombie's work with outside jazz. Violinist Mark Feldman gets the solo time here along with Marc Johnson and Joey Baron, and then everyone goes home happy.
Track Listing: Timeless, Sorcery I, Avenue, Memoir, Stray, Big Music, Ma Belle Helene, Carol's Carol, Homecoming, Convolution
Personnel: John Abercrombie, electric and acoustic guitars, mandolin guitar. Aggregate Personnel: Jan Hammer,organ,synthesizer; Jack DeJohnette,drums; Dave Holland,bass; Ralph Towner, classical guitar; Richard Beirach, piano; George Mraz, bass; Peter Donald, drums; Marc Johnson,bass; Peter Erskine,drums; Kenny Wheeler,trumpet; John Taylor, piano; Dan Wall,organ; Adam Nussbaum, drums; Mark Feldman, violin; Joey Baron, drums.