John Abercrombie: Open Land (ECM 1683)

Open Land

John Abercrombie
Open Land

John Abercrombie guitar
Mark Feldman violin
Kenny Wheeler trumpet, flugelhorn
Joe Lovano tenor saxophone
Dan Wall organ
Adam Nussbaum drums
Recorded September 1998 at Avatar Studios, New York
Engineer: James Farber
Produced by Manfred Eicher

After a string of intriguing albums for ECM, John Abercrombie’s organ trio welcomes violinist Mark Feldman, trumpeter Kenny Wheeler, and tenor man Joe Lovano into the fold for Open Land, a leader-penned session of unusual sound colors and depth. Like all great albums, it reveals more with each listen, so that its augmentations grow more inextricably fused as the music becomes more familiar. From the first lilt of Wheeler’s brass in “Just In Tune,” it’s clear that the increased number of musicians hones the band’s spirit at a microscopic level. To be sure, the rising tide spun by Nussbaum and Wall paints smooth expanse across which Abercrombie stretches his webs—a magic formula that served well in While We’re Young, Speak Of The Devil, and Tactics. By the same token, here the mirage falls inward, catching the phosphorescence of every solo in a jar of fireflies. Even in tracks like the far-reaching “Speak Easy,” Abercrombie builds a tower to the sun but unlike Icarus stops short and looks down at the world for a while, quietly musing to itself before regressing into its core. The lush grooves are still there (“Gimme Five”), as are the featurettes (“Little Booker” and “That’s For Sure”), and the horns coalesce beautifully in tracks like “Remember When.”

Yet it is Feldman whose presence pays highest dividends. A heartfelt take on Felix Mendelssohn’s “Spring Song” gives life to the violinist’s quivering mastication, which breathes anew in the crystalline acoustics of Avatar Studios. This track stands out also for the method of its soloing, which finds each musician echoing another in a perfect circle. Wall is particularly effervescent, bouncing from Abercrombie’s chording like a paddle ball. Feldman sandwiches a crunchy guitar center, sharing bursting thematic lines with downright mitochondrial energy. “Free Piece Suit(e)” is, however, the most fascinating little puzzle of this date and thus finds Feldman in his element, jumping from ecstatic cries to chromatic undertows in the blink of a bow. Nestled in Abercrombie’s network of nerves, he sings a life neurotic as if it were poetry to be savored.

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