John Abercrombie TrioTactics
John Abercrombie's "organ trio", now on its third album for ECM, is regarded by its leader as the optimum vehicle for addressing all of his history, from the 'roots' onwards. As Abercrombie pointed out to journalist Frank-John Handley, there are many listeners unaware that he "grew up playing 'Green Dolphin Street' with an organ trio. That's one of the main reasons why I keep coming back to the traditional format."Convinced that "whoever invented the electric guitar was a Hammond player or vice versa, the instruments just sound so good together", Abercrombie first tested the sonic blend in the mid-60s. While still a student at the Berklee School, he began playing standards, seven nights a week, with the Johnny 'Hammond' Smith organ trio at Boston's Big M club. A little later, live exposure to the Tony Williams' Lifetime band with the organ genius Larry Young, overwhelmed him - and was a direct influence on the instrumentation and intensities of his ECM leader debut Timeless (ECM 1047), featuring Jan Hammer, in 1974. The association with Hammer was re-tested on Night (ECM 1272) a decade later. In the early 1990s, Abercrombie also took a sideman's role on (non-ECM) sessions with improvising organists Jeff Palmer and Lonnie Smith, which impressed upon him the need to have an organ band of his own. He had begun to recognize that "the great common denominator in my life is the organ. Aside from Jim Hall and Bill Evans, whose music is very lyrical, the music that always attracted me was organ trio music. Organ, guitar, drums. Hard driving music". At about this time he received a call from Dan Wall, whom he'd first met circa 1982. Wall had just relocated from Atlanta to New York, and was burning to play."Dan is the only one of all the organ guys I know who can really play my songs," says Abercrombie. "He understands the traditional function of the organ, but can also play very modern things on it." Both "very Larry Young-influenced" and harmonically sophisticated, Wall avoids the foot-pedals of the B3, using just left-hand bass to propose "floating" grooves: Abercrombie likens the organist's sense of space to playing with an acoustic bassist. Wall, however, never forsakes the warmth of the Hammond, the comfortingly "fat" sound that blends so well with electric guitar and tube amps.International press has responded most favourably to the Abercrombie/Wall/Nussbaum trio's previous ECM showings. Of its debut, While We're Young (ECM 1489), recorded in 1992, Gramophone wrote: "Abercrombie has had a long and interesting recording career with ECM, but this album could be his best-ever for the label (...) His tone is demonstrably 'hotter' than his usual, and his conception more clearly blues-based. Wall is given a considerable voice in the music and makes intelligent use of it, coaxing the classic Hammond organ sound to deliver something fresh in an unusual musical environment. This is highly articulate, absorbing and emotionally-charged music and reveals a revitalized Abercrombie really going for it once more."Speak Of The Devil (ECM 1511), recorded in 1993, prompted the Los Angeles Village View to declare that "when it comes to sheer musicality, you'd be hard pressed to find a better band than Abercrombie's trio with Dan Wall on B3 and Adam Nussbaum on drums. Even though Abercrombie is the ostensible leader, there's less emphasis on one player stepping forward to solo than on establishing a group sound...Nussbaum is a powerhouse drummer from the Elvin Jones school who never lets a flashy move impede the flow of the music. Together, they've established one of the most exciting trios around." England's rock magazine Q expressed similar sentiments: "Abercrombie spins elaborate webs of often ethereal melody, and Wall is an ideal partner, never allowing the Hammond's dynamics to overwhelm the music. On fast post-bop pieces Abercrombie doesn't give an inch to any contemporary guitarist for fluency and speed "Much of the foregoing can be applied to Tactics, which captures the organ trio in the New York club Visiones last summer. This recording is the first live Abercrombie album on ECM in almost a decade. Alongside new compositions by Abercrombie, Nussbaum and Wall (the latter's "Bo Diddy" being a particularly ingenious cross-referencing of jazz harmonies and primal rock beats), and jazz standards ("You And The Night And The Music" and "Long Ago And Far Away"), the trio takes a fresh approach to "Dear Rain", an enduring ballad by the leader that surfaced first on 1979's Abercrombie Quartet album (ECM 1164) and again on While We're Young.