Release date: January 26, 2004
Late guitarist and composer John Abercrombie: a talent of talents whose artistry was as genuine as his personality. Unlike a fiction writer playing the role of a narrator who may or may not be reliable, he could always be counted on to tell an honest story. Like all the :rarum collections, but especially in this case, Abercrombie’s self-selection is as widely ranging as his career. Unlike many in the series, it proceeds fairly chronologically, starting in the only place one should—the title track of 1975’s appropriately named Timeless—and ending with “Convolution” from 2002’s Cat ‘n’ Mouse with Mark Feldman on violin, Marc Johnson on bass, and Joey Baron on drums. In what at first seems like an unexpected way to sign off, after its groove sets in halfway through, discovers in Feldman and Abercrombie a fruitful cross-pollination. Another comes in the form of his trio with bassist Dave Holland and drummer Jack DeJohnette. Abercrombie’s performances on “Sorcery I” (Gateway, 1975) and “Homecoming” (from the 1995 album of the same name) are equally incendiary. On the opposite end of the atmospheric spectrum, we may find ourselves chatting fireside with a more subdued though no less soul-stirring conversation partner in such acoustic spaces as “Avenue” (with fellow guitarist Ralph Towner) on the shores of 1976’s Sargasso Sea and the multitracked “Memoir” from 1978’s Characters.
Other standouts among his own tunes include the joyful “Big Music” (November, 1993), as rendered with Johnson and drummer Peter Erskine, and “Ma Belle Hélène” (The Widow In The Window, 1990), as heard through the collective filter of Kenny Wheeler on trumpet, John Taylor on piano, and a Holland/Erskine rhythm section. Abercrombie is golden in tone, the arc to Wheeler’s straighter lines. Even when playing the melody of another, be it Richie Beirach’s “Stray” (from the John Abercrombie Quartet’s 1980 self-titled debut) or “Carol’s Carols” by organist Dan Wall (While We’re Young, 1993), Abercrombie opens each motif like a capsule for us to savor and, through the act of listening alone, contribute to before returning to the ground.