John Abercrombie

The Third Quartet

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Third Quartet is the third album by this rather astonishing group of musicians under guitarist and composer John Abercrombie's leadership. His collaborators: drummer Joey Baron, violinist Mark Feldman, and bassist Marc Johnson are all accomplished leaders in their own rights, but as they team with Abercrombie, something unusual, unwieldy, and utterly transformative takes place. Feldman is such a worthy foil for the guitarist. The call is the response in tunes like "Banshee" and "Wishing Bell," the counterpoint in "Tres," and the gorgeously simple harmonic extrapolations in "Number Nine," with its spacious and slippery melody, accent each man's greatest strength. For Feldman it's in the ear. He doesn't simply follow Abercrombie, he underscores him, he journeys from him and illumines his violin's particularly colorful tonalities in contrast to Abercrombie's warm and buttery tone. The ensemble symbiosis is at its height on tunes like Ornette Coleman's "Round Trip," which is begun by Baron and followed by Johnson, followed by Abercrombie and then Feldman. That said, the ensemble interplay near the end of tune, stretching Coleman's lyric line to the breaking point, is almost breathtaking. The other cover here, following immediately after, is Bill Evans' "Epilogue." Here, the sheer tenderness and emotion of Evans' composition are evident from the moment Abercrombie and Feldman begin playing together. Feldman's nearly modal approach to the actual head is startling at first, but the pacing, and Abercrombie's trademark sparse phrasing, are where the genius that is Evans' displays itself. Abercrombie and Feldman re-read the tune through its mode, and Johnson's skeletal playing of the changes keeps its from being entirely spectral. Baron's cymbal washes here are especially poignant. It feels more like an elegy, but there is no doubt that is its intention. This is a most welcome and beautiful addition to this particular group's musical language as well as their catalog.

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