The John Abercrombie Quartet's Cat 'n' Mouse, issued in 2002, showcased a band that was on the verge of something that approached greatness. Abercrombie, violinist Mark Feldman, drummer Joey Baron, and bassist Marc Johnson gelled together inside the framework of the guitarist's increasingly open-ended compositions and became a unit that could articulate the most subtle of sonorities and intricate harmonic architectures. But they also revealed that they were entering the zone where they could actually stretch time and space. On Class Trip, the bandmembers come together fully and build on that concept with such beauty and grace that they sound as if they've been playing together all their lives. The sheer subtle intuition that guides these proceedings is breathtaking, whether they are weaving through one another on "Cat Walk," which is alternately full of shimmering yet knotty harmonics with Abercrombie's chord voicings offering a dimensional extension of Feldman's lines in counterpoint, finding a common singing voice where time signatures seemingly disappear, as on "Risky Business," or messing about with Bartók's "Soldier's Song" and turning its melodic line back on itself in an inverse scalar schemata. This band is concerned only with the articulation and expression of a musicality that lies not in the obviousness of its contributors' considerable musical gifts as jazz improvisers, but in the sheer nuanced elegance of an ensemble whose blurring of traditions under the rubric of improvisation makes the group not only compelling but brilliant. Abercrombie's compositions for this band are the most adventurous and graceful of his long career; as a unit, the quartet is a band without peers that plays a music whose challenge is only eclipsed by its accessibility and singular language.
Class Trip Review
by Thom Jurek