John Abercrombie’s Quartet is both a subtly swinging jazz group and an adventurous one, with a range encompassing music from standards to group improvising of chamber music sensibility. While consciously linked, through the pieces that John writes for it, to the jazz tradition, the quartet often seems to be on the brink of leaving it behind. Abercrombie has described himself both as “an Ornette Coleman styled free player” and a player keen to extend the harmonic language of the jazz guitar. As a forward-thinking traditionalist he’s been hailed as “the most important living jazz guitarist” (All About Jazz), and earned the respect and approval of his peers. Jim Hall, one of Abercrombie’s formative influences has said, “John is unique and allows himself to grow and change constantly...I love his playing because it constantly surprises me.” His contemporary John Scofield says, “Anybody who’s got ears can hear the beautiful integrity of his improvisations, and how incredibly well he plays the electric guitar. Right now he’s playing better than he ever has.” (DownBeat interview).
Recorded in New York’s Avatar Studios in December 2008, with Manfred Eicher producing, “Wait Till You See Her” features new Abercrombie pieces which provide frames for thoughtful group interaction, plus the tender title track (a Rodgers and Hart tune originally penned for the 1942 musical, “By Jupiter”).
The quartet has been the primary focus of Abercrombie’s work for a decade now, making it the longest-lasting of the guitarist’s ‘regular’ bands. “Wait Till You See Her” follows “Cat ’n’ Mouse” (2000), “Class Trip” (2003) and “The Third Quartet” (2006). The roots of the project, however, are in “Open Land”, the 1998 project that brought Abercrombie and Mark Feldman together. “Having Feldman is like having a string section behind you sometimes,” Abercrombie told journalist Paul Olson. “He’ll jump in and start playing behind me on tunes, playing double-stops or making little quotes, and it’s like having a little orchestra. It inspires me to play in particular ways... I was looking for a band that had a wide dynamic range, that would delve into freer areas of improvisation... When we do play freely and make things go up or off into those zones, it sounds more like chamber music to me. With the violin and guitar and acoustic bass it becomes almost like 20th century classical music, or something you can’t even put your finger on.”
In the improvised sections of the present recording, the interplay between old hands Abercrombie, Feldman and Baron is differently shaded and given impetus through the assured input of remarkable young bass player, Thomas Morgan (28), whose resume already includes work with Steve Coleman, Paul Motian, Masubumi Kikuchi, and whose agility and deep, rooted musicality is exceptional. “Wait Till You See Her” is Morgan’s ECM debut.
Mark Feldman’s ECM recordings include his own “What Exit” (2005), and “Abaton” with Sylvie Courvoisier. One of the busiest of session men, in jazz contexts Feldman has played with everyone from Lee Konitz to Pharoah Sanders. Beyond jazz, he has written music for the Kronos Quartet, soloed with the Netherlands Radio Symphony Orchestra and, in his Nashville years, accompanied a galaxy of country stars including Loretta Lynn, Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash.
Drummer Joey Baron’s work on ECM includes albums with Steve Kuhn (including a powerhouse performance on the new “Mostly Coltrane” album), Bill Frisell (“Lookout for Hope”), Marc Johnson (“Shades of Jade”) and John Taylor (“Rosslyn”) as well as the discs with Abercrombie. Baron’s numerous recordings include much work with John Zorn, Dave Douglas, Misha Mengelberg and may others as well as his own groups including the Down Home Band with Arthur Blythe, Ron Carter and Bill Frisell.
John Abercrombie has appeared on more than 40 ECM albums including 26 as a leader or co-leader. After coming to the label originally as a sideman with Dave Liebman in 1973, he was asked to record an album of his own the following year and the aptly-named “Timeless” stands as one of the landmark documents of ECM’s first decade. In 1975, with Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette he co-founded the band Gateway, and in the same period was also a member of Enrico Rava’s quartet. In 1976 he established a duo with fellow guitarist Ralph Towner. Abercrombie has had four main bands over the years – a quartet with Richie Beirach, George Mraz and Peter Donald, a trio with Marc Johnson and Peter Erskine, the ‘organ trio’ with Dan Wall and Adam Nussbaum, and the current quartet. In 2009 Abercrombie has also been renewing a playing association with saxophonist John Surman – he appears on the British saxophonist’s new album “Brewster’s Rooster” and has been performing in Surman’s quartet in the US.
“Wait Till You See Her” is launched with a run at New York’s Birdland club beginning on September 30. At the end of October the Abercrombie Quartet opens four days of ECM concerts in Mannheim, Germany, under the umbrella of the Enjoy Jazz Festival. In November, the Abercrombie Quartet tours Europe. Dates include Nice; France (November 20) Bad Aibling, Germany (November 22) Dübendorf, Switzerland (November 26), Saalfelden, Austria (November 28) Dudelange, Luxembourg (November 30) Schiltigheim, France (December 1). Further dates are in preparation.