Gateway: Homecoming (ECM 1562) / In The Moment (ECM 1574)

Guitarist John Abercrombie, bassist Dave Holland, and drummer Jack DeJohnette made history with the release of Gateway in 1975. The name stuck, as did the accolades, which followed them to a 1978 sequel that bolstered their sound to new heights. Only after a 17-year hiatus, during which time each member played with the other (but never as a trio) in varying forms, did they push their already stuffed envelope with a reunion at New York’s Power Station studio, by then a familiar launch pad for DeJohnette and his work with the Keith Jarrett Trio. The session spawned two albums, though only one was planned, starting with:

Homecoming
Recorded December 1994, Power Station, New York
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

The title track reunited more than one of the finest groups of the seventies, bringing together also the many emotional souvenirs each performer had gathered along the way. The joy in every lick and tumble is in full evidence. DeJohnette is aflame, Abercrombie following his trail of embers with laser precision and shaving off an twist of lime for his solo, while Holland (who penned this and three other of the album’s nine tunes) is at his buoyant best. His montuno-flavored “Modern Times” and “How’s Never” throw open the doors for both of his bandmates, but especially for DeJohnette in the latter. Abercrombie counters with three gems of his own, of which “Calypso Falto” is noteworthy for its conjuration of faraway islands and intimate shores. Not be left out, DeJohnette rounds out the set with a diptych, swapping sticks for ivory on “Oneness” and presaging his album of the same name by two years.

If only we could get a taste of this alchemy in our drink, we might all live beyond our time. Invigorating and fine, Homecoming is a joy to explore time and again. Which is, I imagine, exactly what was on ECM producer Manfred Eicher’s mind when he asked the trio to keep playing:

In The Moment
Recorded December 1994, Power Station, New York
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Thus, In The Moment, a 46-minute set of group improvisations that simply must be heard in conjunction. DeJohnette chants through a Turkish frame drum for the start, Abercrombie working his microtonal magic with an ess-curved twang. This formula persists because it works, finding new purpose in “Cinuçen.” Pregnant like a Saharan sky, it lets down its golden hair and lumbers through “The Enchanted Forest” to catch up to its own jangling caravan. The interaction between bass and drums make tracks like “Shrubberies” the beautiful things that they are. As far a cry as possible from the Monty Python images its title may evoke, this is an honest excursion that lowers us like a sleeping child into “Soft.” For this, Holland draws his bow like the Loch Ness monster beneath Abercrombie’s wavering reflections as a pianistic fog assures the sighting will never be captured. Magic and pure to the last, this one is.

Both Homecoming and In The Moment are of a piece, each the shadow of the other in the light of our listening. We may, and with good reason, marvel at three-dimensionality of their mesh…but in the end it’s all about letting go and taking the music for what it is: a language we all can translate.

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