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John Abercrombie, Open Land (65:00); ECM 1683, 1999
ECM Records
Postfach 600 331
81203 München, Germany
Cyberhome: www.ecmrecords.com

        John Abercrombie's guitar tone has changed a lot over the years. I am 
particularly fond of his late 70s quartet with Richard Beirach, 
George Mraz, and Peter Donald. Back then his sound was extremely 
dark-nearly underwater in fact, with no treble to speak of. Lately 
it's developed a lot more flesh and attack. On this new record, 
Open Land, he gravitates toward a nasal tone more along the 
lines of John Scofield. "Spring Song," a haunting waltz, and "Gimme 
Five," based on a simple 5/4 vamp, feature a guitar sound so metallic 
and crisp that I searched in vain for an acoustic guitar credit on 
the disc sleeve.
	Augmenting his working trio, which consists of himself, 
organist Dan Wall, and drummer Adam Nussbaum, Abercrombie recruits 
Kenny Wheeler on trumpet and fluegelhorn, Joe Lovano on tenor sax, 
and Mark Feldman on violin. The three supporting members don't 
necessarily appear together on every track. Feldman's violin, like 
most jazz violin, sounds antique and yet curiously progressive; its 
legato quality suits Abercrombie's compositions well. There is no 
bassist, and Wall's approach to organ bass is less aggressive than, 
say, Larry Goldings's. As a result, the music has a rhythmically soft 
edge; even the fiery Nussbaum sounds generally calm and reflective.
	On "Just in Tune" and "Little Booker," both lyrical swing 
numbers, Wheeler sounds especially relaxed and conversational, as 
though he were sitting back in a chair while taking his solos. Wall's 
playing on these tunes is also packed with a casual sort of 
brilliance. The title track, "Open Land," takes a dramatic step 
toward abstraction. It begins with an angular melodic line played in 
unison by guitar, violin, and tenor. (Wheeler is absent on this cut.) 
Nussbaum brings it into tempo with the ride cymbal and the same 
melody is played as a fast eighth-note run. Strong solos follow by 
Abercrombie, Feldman, Wall, and Lovano.
	Wall is again in fine form on the wistful ballad "Speak 
Easy." Same goes for Nussbaum and both horn players on "Remember 
When," a tune in six that makes judicious use of space between 
melodic phrases. All band members are given composer credit on "Free 
Piece Suit(e)," a collective improvisation which floats out of tempo 
until Feldman begins to stir it up, prompting Nussbaum to imply a 
slow, straight-eighth rock groove.
	Touches of country and even reggae float by on "That's for 
Sure," the final track. Abercrombie and Wall play around with the 
feel in simultaneous solos. The folky flavor of the song is 
heightened by the absence of horns, the presence of violin, and the 
particularly twangy sound of Abercrombie's guitar. Perhaps the 
Americana-drenched influence of composers such as Marc Johnson, Bill 
Frisell, and John Scofield has rubbed off on Abercrombie. And perhaps 
this is the "Open Land" to which the album title refers.
~David R. Adler


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