Class Trip

John Abercrombie, Mark Feldman, Marc Johnson, Joey Baron

CD18,90 out of print
Featured Artists Recorded

February 2003, Avatar Studios, New York

Original Release Date


  • 1Dansir
    (John Abercrombie)
  • 2Risky Business
    (John Abercrombie)
  • 3Descending Grace
    (John Abercrombie)
  • 4Illinoise
    (Joey Baron, John Abercrombie, Marc Johnson, Mark Feldman)
  • 5Cat Walk
    (John Abercrombie)
  • 6Excuse My Shoes
    (John Abercrombie)
  • 7Swirls
    (John Abercrombie)
  • 8Jack and Betty
    (John Abercrombie)
  • 9Class Trip
    (John Abercrombie)
  • 10Soldier's Song
    (Béla Bartók)
  • 11Epilogue
    (Joey Baron, John Abercrombie, Marc Johnson, Mark Feldman)
Jazzreview, The Editor’s Choice
Jazzman, Choc du mois
La Liberté, Coup de cœur
Stereoplay, Klangtipp
Class Trip marks John Abercrombie’s second studio go-round with this expressive, expansive band, a quartet featuring violinist Mark Feldman as front line partner to the guitarist. The rhythm section of drummer Joey Baron and bassist Marc Johnson complete the roster. The band has retained all the tension and energy of its debut recording, the ranging and often free-improvised Cat’n’Mouse, while pursuing an altogether more melodic and focused program. Feldman continues to be a great addition as he and Abercrombie continually provide softening counterpoint to each other’s more acidic moments. … Throw in an engine firing like Johnson/Baron here and you have top shelf Abercrombie.
Aaron Steinberg, Jazztimes
This is music-making of a very pure and unalloyed sort. No “doubling” instruments, no guest spots, and apart from a couple of group-improvised tracks and a fascinating version of Bartók’s “Soldier’s Song”, no material other than Abercrombie’s trademark lyricism. … Joey Baron’s joyous minimalism is a key element on this record. With that little kit and those distinctive crisp sounds, less is a great deal more. … The violinist is a revelation throughout, whether playing deliciously awkward whole-tone scales or flirting with microtonal ideas on the second improvised track.
Brian Morton, Jazz Review
There are many artists who perform free music and a smaller subset who subscribe to the concept of spontaneous composition; but few manage to straddle the line between imposed structure and loose exploration as successfully as Abercrombie’s current quartet. Class Trip manages to create much out of very little; imaginative and substantive, this is arguably the best group of Abercrombie’s career.
John Kelman, All About Jazz
Class Trip by the guitarist John Abercrombie … recalls the early fusioneers – specifically the Mahavishnu Orchestra. Like John McLaughlin’s group, guitar and violin share the leads, but McLaughlin’s frenetic team would have had to chill out a good deal to sound like this quartet. Abercrombie is rooted in jazz but can turn on the rock swagger if required; the violinist Mark Feldman veers from classical poise to bluesy swing. The pair deliver breakneck unison lines and dart lightly round themes, ably supported by Marc Johnson, double bass, and Joey Baron on drums. … The four musicians combine beautifully. A class trip? Absolutely.
John Bungey, The Times
Das Zusammenspiel von Gitarre und Violine ist ein altes Thema aus den wenig beackerten Feldern des Jazzrepertoires. Und es klingt so gut. So fragil und facettenreich. Voller Weizenduft und Großstadtglanz. Beispielsweise bei John Abercrombie und Mark Feldman auf Class Trip, der neuesten CD des John Abercrombie Quartet. Da stehen sich zwei wirkliche Virtuosen gegenüber, belauern einander wie für einander bestimmt, lassen einander keinen Moment aus der Beobachtung. Bei jedem Ton weiß man: Das ist Spannung, das ist Konzentration. Mal klingt alles ganz leise und verhalten verhallt, dann schleicht es sich langsam in den Diskant, wo die Gitarre in ihrer stillen Melancholie zu singen anfängt und schließlich die Violine übernimmt. Phrasierung, Dynamik, Melodik – Feldman und Abercrombie verstehen einander blind.
Stefan Hentz, Financial Times Deutschland
Was mag John Abercrombie bewogen haben, ein derart intensives, leidenschaftliches, warmes und doch abstraktes Stück Musik zu erfinden? ... Es erfordert ein enormes Maß an Disziplin, bei aller Freiheit der Interaktion Formen und Konturen so weit im Hinterkopf zu behalten, dass man sie auflösen kann, ohne sie aufzugeben. Das ständige verschränkte Wechselspiel von Konstruktion und Rückzug setzt ungeahnte Imaginationsräume frei. Jeder Musiker kennt genau seine Position und weiß spontan seine Stellung zu wechseln, wenn sich die Grundkonstellation verschiebt. Ein Raum wird geschaffen, innerhalb dessen mit verschiedenen Zuständen von Licht und Wärme gearbeitet wird, die jeder Beteiligte oder Außenstehende unterschiedlich auf seine haut und Sinne wirken lassen mag. ...
Jede Vorsicht vor Superlativen ist hier unangebracht. Mit Class Trip hat John Abercrombie nicht nur das beeindruckendste Album seiner langen Laufbahn vorgelegt, er hat darüber hinaus den lange angezweifelten Beweis erbracht, dass man auf der Gitarre mit ganz einfachen technischen Mitteln auch im neuen Jahrtausend unerhörte Musik hervorbringen kann. Ein leises, zurückhaltendes und doch gigantisches, ja monolithisches Album.
Wolf Kampmann, Jazzthetik
Wieder sind der Violinist Mark Feldman, der Bassist Marc Johnson und der Schlagzeuger Joey Baron mit von der Partie. Allesamt Individualisten, die sich jetzt aber, nach langer gemeinsamer Tour-Erfahrung und intensivem Zusammenspiel zu einem wunderlich geschlossenen Klangkörper entwickelt haben. ... Die spontanen Interaktionen der Musiker entspringen höchster Improvisations-Könnerschaft, hier wird auf einander gehört, zusammen gespielt und reagiert, und die Resultate fallen von getragen bis zuweilen explosiv und vermeintlich „free“ aus. ... Trotz aller Komplexität „swingt“ das Ganze und treibt dabei auch die Emotionen des Hörers an.
Gregor Hilden, Akustik Gitarre
In the wake of intense roadwork on both sides of the Atlantic, John Abercrombie’s group, with its fresh perspectives on the meaning of freedom and interplay in and out of the jazz tradition, has become perhaps the most consistently exciting and creative unit the guitarist has led in the course of his three decades with ECM. This edition of the Abercrombie Quartet manages to combine an extraordinary lyric gracefulness and a lithe, serpentine sense of rhythm with much fire.

The story of its development began six years ago, when Abercrombie and Mark Feldman began to work together in earnest, although its roots go back to a mid-80s workshop in Banff, Canada, when John first heard – and was astonished by – the violinist. “Open Land”, recorded 1998, brought Feldman into the orbit of Abercrombie’s “organ trio”(with Dan Wall and Adam Nussbaum), and suggested ways that the work could be carried forward. It was a matter, as Abercrombie explained to writer Greg Buium in Coda magazine recently, of targeting musicians who could play his harmonically-idiosyncratic tunes and who would also welcome the idea of negotiating more open-form music, freely developed out of the compositions. Hence the inclusion in the line-up of bassist Marc Johnson and drummer Joey Baron, both players with whom John has considerable history and both gifted improvisers.

Their debut as a quartet on “Cat’n’Mouse”, recorded at the end of 2000, was widely praised: “Spacey, thrilling contemporary music” – John Fordham in the Guardian; “Must be nominated as production of the year… Of all the fine creations Abercrombie has delivered, this is both the best and the hardest to classify” – Peter Rüedi in Die Weltwoche; “The birth of a great band” – Karl Lippegaus, Süddeutsche Zeitung; “Abercrombie’s best in a long time” – Ben Ratliff, New York Times.

The commitment of these four musicians, each making this quartet a priority despite bandleader duties elsewhere, and their many miles of touring together, has brought the music to a new level, and “Class Trip” marks a considerable advance on its predecessor. Amongst its most compelling attributes is the players’ group sense, they way in which they move so surely together in collective improvisations that retain, even at high speeds, a sense of form. In his liner note to the disc, Thomas Steinfeld calls this “Abercrombie’s art of elevation”:

“In Mark Feldman, Joey Baron and Marc Johnson, John Abercrombie has found three musicians who are his equals in the art of conjuring up and making disappear. Together with Feldman, one of the great violin improvisers, he gladly entangles himself in a joint melody, playing in garlands, often a little transposed and with a short, lightly glimmering lag… The two do not play ‘cat and mouse’ together, but rather ‘formation flight’ or ‘the dancing couple,’ and who does the leading is seldom certain… This ‘Class Trip’ indeed has something of a high-spirited outing among allies. Not only because the four-man elevation demands a high dose of familiarity, musical mutuality and empathy, but also because such an outing demands huge clarity of relations: Clear structures, successions of harmony embedded deep within the memory and meters that can be disregarded because they are already mastered in all their variants. Clarity of relations is the prerequisite for freedom, beauty and wit being able to emerge. These are musicians wishing to move within an enchanted world… They perform magical antics, small miracles of lavishness and not only accompanied by the music, but filled with it, transfigured and inspired.”

Or, as John Abercrombie says, “It’s a perfect band, my favourite band, for playing free improvised stuff, where there’s little or no talk about what you’re going to do. There might be a little send-off, or there might be a little vehicle. Or sometimes there might be no vehicle. But this band is so quick. Joey Baron is just one of the quickest musicians I’ve ever encountered. He can turn on a dime; he can do absolutely anything.”

Critic Bob Blumenthal has observed that “Mark Feldman is one of the most versatile improvisers on any instrument”. Feldman has certainly been through more idioms, styles and lives than most of his contemporaries – fluent in the classical repertoire, accomplished at bebop and swing, a strong free player, and with a background also as a Nashville sessioneer, he is certainly the only musician to have played with John Zorn, Johnny Cash, the Basel Sinfonietta and Kenny Wheeler. In recent years he has worked often with his wife, expatriate Swiss pianist Sylvie Courvoisier, as on the “Abaton” set released by ECM in 2003. Where “Open Land” and “Cat ‘n’ Mouse” stressed Feldman’s eclectic grasp, the role of the violin has become integral as the group has grown, as the quartet’s focus has tightened and the improvisations become ever more purposeful. Abercrombie views the music they play as improvised chamber music, rooted in the jazz tradition, but better able to avoid the tried-and-tested gestures of ‘free jazz’ by virtue of the instrumentation. “It’s a strings and percussion ensemble that often likes to play abstract music,” says Abercrombie.

Alongside new Abercrombie pieces, serving mostly as springboards into the free, the group also plays an improvised arrangement of Béla Bartók’s “Soldier’s Song”, from the 44 Duos for Two Violins. Bartók has long been an inspiration for Abercrombie, as for so many jazz musicians. After all, he transformed folk music and dance music into high art. The best jazz players do no less.