John Abercrombie guitar
Marc Johnson bass
Peter Erskine drums
John Surman baritone and soprano saxophones, bass clarinet
Recorded November 1992 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Named for both the month its was recorded in and for the mood it maintains, November is a cogent record from guitarist John Abercrombie’s trio with bassist Marc Johnson and drummer Peter Erskine, along with special guest John Surman. The English reedman lends his fluid considerations to the album’s deepest moments, and nowhere so engagingly as in “The Cat’s Back,” thus opening a cloudy and sometimes pensive set of mostly group originals. Abercrombie’s quiet sparkle ushers in the gravid quartet sound of this improvised prelude, Surman tipping the scales with bass clarinet against the weight of Erskine and Johnson’s joyous communication. Those timeworn ululations scramble themselves in “Rise And Fall,” a veritable Rubik’s Cube of baritone utterances. The legato soprano of “Ogeda” also inspires particularly soulful picking from Abercrombie, who pulls from the gumdrop strums of “Come Rain Or Come Shine” and “Prelude” a scroll of ideas. These come to life inside rings of celestial fire, each a meteorite in freefall. Meditation throbs at the heart of “J.S.,” a lavish piece boasting starry turns all around. After this look inward, we get something more extroverted in the foot-tapping beats of “Right Brain Patrol.” Despite small beginnings, it ends up spitting pale fire as if it were breath itself into “John’s Waltz.” Over Erskine’s calm ripples, Abercrombie grabs the tail of Johnson’s solo for one of his own, deploying a parachute held by chromatic tethers. “To Be” reprises Surman’s bass clarinet, played here as if it were the last of its kind. Its voice paints the night with that gentle resignation only loneliness can bring, a heartening and mournful sound that recedes from “Big Music,” which finishes the album with ice-skating melodies and tight syncopations.
While everyone on November listens to the others with equal acuity, I find this outing all the more enjoyable for what Johnson does to its sound. After having only encountered him in denser projects like Bass Desires, it was a real pleasure to hear—in the title track, for example—the intimacy of his craft. His duet with Erskine on “Tuesday Afternoon” is a real gem in this regard and provides a guiding lens for this exquisite studio date.