John Abercrombie Quartet: Up and Coming (ECM 2528)

Up and Coming

John Abercrombie Quartet
Up and Coming

John Abercrombie guitar
Marc Copland piano
Drew Gress double bass
Joey Baron drums
Recorded April/May 2016 at Avatar Studios, New York
Engineer: James A. Farber
Assistants: Thom Beemer and Nate Odden
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Release date: January 13, 2017

The quartet of guitarist John Abercrombie, pianist Marc Copland, bassist Drew Gress, and drummer Joey Baron, last featured on 2013’s 39 Steps, returns for the final ECM album to be released before the bandleader’s death. As if we ever needed a reminder of why his art was more than its own musical country but a continent unto itself, this gorgeous swan song fulfills that duty and then some.

Each facet of Up and Coming pays tribute to Abercrombie’s meteoric development as a musician, and by the brushwork of his bandmates renders a group portrait quite unlike any other in the business. On “Joy,” we’re introduced to their symbiosis in spades. As wind currents of guitar and piano flow over each another, they trace a cymbal-kissed shore and its trail of bass footprints. If joy abounds here in name, so does it also in spirit on “Flipside,” of which an understated brilliance showcases the quartet at its straightforward best.

If “Sunday School” is a lesson in grace and doctrinal congruity, wherein Abercrombie shines with a quiet light and sparks a particularly introspective solo from Gress, the title track is a more secular campaign led by the guitarist’s liquid-mercury call to arms. In likeminded spirit, Copland contributes two tunes written for this session. Where “Tears” rows a classically inflected river that finds Abercrombie and Gress wielding the most delicate of improvisational oars, “Silver Circle” elicits a funk-infused passion.

Channeling Bill Evans in their rendition of the Miles Davis standard “Nardis,” the band begins without rhythm, floating in reverie before landing into sunlit fields. And there we find Abercrombie cartwheeling away in “Jumbles.” Here, as until now, Baron’s splashing cymbals are the leitmotif of a palpable scene.

It goes without saying that this album’s title is most ironic, given that such playing can only be forged by those who’ve been around the block more than a few times. From beat one to none, Up and Coming is a fitting end to an unparalleled legacy—one, I sincerely hope, of more in the wings of ECM’s archives.

(Photo credit: Bart Babinski)

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