Within A Song

John Abercrombie Quartet

“Within A Song” celebrates the spirit of discovery that illuminated the jazz of the 1960s, as John Abercrombie declares his musical loyalties in a quartet album that pays tribute to a range of early influences including Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Bill Evans, Ornette Coleman, Sonny Rollins and Jim Hall. “This was the music that spoke to me. When I heard it, it was like finding a new home.” The group assembled especially for this production, recorded at New York’s Avatar Studios in September 2011 features tenorist Joe Lovano as the optimal partner for Abercrombie. Together they mine deep feelings from these modern jazz classics.

Featured Artists Recorded

September 2011, Avatar Studios, New York

Original Release Date


  • 1Where Are You
    (Harold Adamson, Jimmy McHugh)
  • 2Easy Reader
    (John Abercrombie)
  • 3Within A Song / Without A Song
    (John Abercrombie, Vincent Youmans, Billy Rose)
  • 4Flamenco Sketches
    (Miles Davis)
  • 5Nick Of Time
    (John Abercrombie)
  • 6Blues Connotation
    (Ornette Coleman)
  • 7Wise One
    (John Coltrane)
  • 8Interplay
    (Bill Evans)
  • 9Sometime Ago
    (Sergio Mihanovich)
…Abercrombie hat auch ein paar neue Stücke für das Album geschrieben, das delicate “Nick Of Time” und den lieblichen Walzer „Easy Reader“. Den Titelsong aus seiner Feder hat er elegant mit dem Standard „Without A Song“ verwoben. Bassist Drew Gress und Schlagzeuger Joey Baron spinnen auf der ganzen Platte einen feinen Kokon aus Rhythmus, in dem Abercrombie und Lovano sich gegenseitig die Bälle zuspielen können. Eine so bekannte Nummer wie Miles Davis’ „Flamenco Sketches“ (von „Kind Of Blue“, der wohl berühmtesten Jazzplatte überhaupt) kommt bei Abercrombie aus dem Nichts, nur unterstützt von Joey Barons feinem Beckenrauschen. Und dann gelingt es Joe Lovano, aus den Akkordprogressionen etwas völlig Neues zu entwickeln.
roth, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
Guitarist John Abercrombie has been one of the most thoughtful and least exhibitionist improvisers of the post-bop era. Now, with a trio of master musicians – saxophonist Joe Lovano, bassist Drew Gress and drummer Joey Baron – he delves back into his roots, re-examining the work of the musicians who inspired him. Unlike some, as he wryly comments in his accompanying note, Abercrombie remembers the 1960s clearly. It was the time when musicians like Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Bill Evans and Jim Hall were taking be-bop in new directions, giving those of Abercrombie’s generation, in his words, “a place to live.” Each of them is celebrated here, but the guitarist still manages to make a record that is very much his own, his feather-light touch coaxing intense creativity out of his bandmates.
Cormac Larkin, The Irish Times
The guitarist’s precision, warm sound and ability to match tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano’s free-floating invention reveal music of greater substance, with drummer Joey Baron’s restrained subtleties and the unobtrusive, firm-fingered bassist Drew Gress spurring and supporting each twist of Lovano’s gruff, wispy and perfectly placed lines.
Mike Hobart, Financial Times
Auf “Within A Song”, seiner jüngsten Einspielung für das Münchner Label ECM, mitgeschnitten in den New Yorker Avatar-Studios, kehrt Abercrombie zurück in die Zeit, die ihn als Jüngling musikalisch geprägt hat: in die Jahre um 1960. […] Mit von der Partie sind auf dieser Quartett-Aufnahme Joe Lovano, ein Rubens des Saxofons, der feinfühlige Schlagzeug-Poet Joey Baron und der empathische Bassist Drew Gress. Ein reifes, rundes Album voller Überraschungen – und keineswegs nur etwas für nostalgische Kenner.
Manfred Papst, NZZ am Sonntag
Dass John Abercrombie sein Album “Within A Song” nannte, offenbart mehr als einen feinen Sinn des Gitarristen für Humor. Zum einen ist der Titel vordergründig eine Antwort auf Vincent Youmans 1929 komponierten Jazzklassiker „Without A Song“. Andererseits beschreibt er genau das Hörerlebnis: Die vier dringen in die Tiefe der neun Titel vor und kratzen nicht nur an deren Oberfläche. […] So unaufdringlich und filigran die Aufnahmen zunächst auch wirken mögen, so viel Tiefgang und Substanz hat das scheinbar Leichte auch.
Werner Stiefele, Audio
The atmosphere is delicate (Baron at times seems barely to be touching his cymbals) but there’s a great deal more exuberant swing than on recent Abercrombie sessions - and this all-star group constantly demonstrate how joyous that can sound without winding up the volume.
John Fordham, The Guardian
With expert backing from Drew Gress and Joey Baron, he and Joe Lovano revisit the likes of Sonny Rollins’ “The Bridge”, Ornette’s “Blues Connotations” and Coltrane’s “Wise One” with admiring empathy and delicate invention that, in Abercrombie’s case, draws on the harmonic genius of Jim Hall. Even “Flamenco Sketches”, significantly re-imagined, sounds fresh here. There are originals too: “Nick of Time” defies easy encapsulation and sounds as though, like the iconic tunes that surround it, it might itself still be worth plundering for it’s musical riches in 50 years’ time.
Robert Shore, Jazzwise
Tenor saxophone with bass and drums is a jazz format with a wild and woolly tradition. For tenor virtuosos like Sonny Rollins and Joe Henderson, trios have been opportunities to risk everything, to dance on a tightrope with no net. The tenor trio that calls itself Fly breaks with this tradition explicitly. Fly plays cerebral, rapt, interactive chamber jazz, deriving a wide range of textures and colors from three instruments. […] The music of Fly is sophisticated and sincere and enormously competent. …
Thomas Conrad, Jazz Times
On “Within A Song”, John Abercrombie pays tribute to formative influences, to the recordings and the musicians that shaped his early listening and his future directions. The period addressed is the 1960s, with specific reference to key recordings by Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane and Bill Evans. This new album, revisiting some classics of the era, is effectively a modern jazz primer, but it’s also much more.

“Manfred Eicher and I had been talking for a while about doing an album that might pay homage to a particular jazz artist or composer. But in the end I preferred to look at the era when my own musical tastes were shaped. The recordings that I was listening to back then were mostly post-bebop jazz albums, usually by artists who were stretching the forms, in their various ways.”

Guitarist Abercrombie and tenorist Joe Lovano convey their empathy with the original protagonists, while also bringing much of their own creativity into service. There is superlative playing from both of them, with encouragement and alert support from Joey Baron and Drew Gress, also vital contributors to the project.

The album opens with “Where are You”, from Rollins’ “The Bridge”, and from the same source comes “Without A Song”, the latter now enveloped in John’s title track. “Hearing Sonny Rollins and Jim Hall on ‘The Bridge’ was an epiphany for me,” Abercrombie says. “They just turned my head around. When I heard them playing ‘Without a Song’", I thought that’s the best thing I’ve ever heard! So for this new album I wrote songs based upon it.”

Jim Hall has long been one of John’s primary influences, admired for musicality and harmonic sophistication beyond the creation of great solos, and there are several Hall references on the disc, in connections to Rollins, Bill Evans and also Art Farmer. “I had the opportunity to see Art Farmer’s band with Jim Hall, Steve Swallow on acoustic bass and Pete La Roca on drums quite often, and every time I saw them they played Sergio Mahanovich’s tune ‘Sometime Ago’ in such a poignant way. It was so moving. In my mind, at least, it was the theme song of the Art Farmer-Jim Hall Quartet.” Hall was also on board for Bill Evans’s ‘Interplay’ album whose title tune is reinterpreted here. “I always liked this tune of Bill’s. It’s a very well-written theme on a minor blues. The construction of the melody, and Bill’s use of intervals, is quite unique. Plus, I welcomed the chance to play a blues on an ECM album.”

Ornette Coleman’s “Blues Connotation”, originally recorded on “This Is Our Music”, plays more loosely with the language of the blues. “I liked the total sound of Ornette’s bands with Don Cherry, Charlie Haden and either Ed Blackwell or Billy Higgins. It was clear to me that Ornette had a concept and knew what he was doing. I heard his alto playing really as an extension of Charlie Parker. Having recorded ‘Round Trip’ already in the quartet with Mark Feldman [on ‘The Third Quartet’ in 2006], I was looking for another piece with that feeling of openness. ‘Blues Connotation’ has that quality. It’s a piece that gives you the option of playing in a blues style or freely, and this time we took a freer path.”

Abercrombie describes himself as “a late bloomer” vis-à-vis “Kind of Blue”: “It was released in ’59 but I didn’t hear it until 1962, when I was a student in Boston. I was completely captured by Miles’s playing on that album, the simplicity and beauty of it. Of course, the album is meanwhile so well-known that certain tunes have been practically worn out with repetition. But I thought it was still possible to play something fresh on the chord progressions of ‘Flamenco Sketches’ and create our own melodies.”

Coltrane’s “Crescent”, was also the subject of intense scrutiny in Abercrombie’s Boston years. “I had loved the way Coltrane played ballads, but ‘Crescent’ seemed to be a centrepiece for the new music he was working on: the new tunes, with the long rubato intros, of which ‘Wise One’ was a great example. Music of real beauty.”

Abercrombie also adds compositions of his own to the programme. “Easy Reader”, an amiable Abercrombie waltz, makes a nod to Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda’s “Easy Rider”, another iconic production of 60s vintage. This like “Nick of Time” with its oblique melody, is integrated within the context of an album that looks back with admiration – and a measure of nostalgia – for an era when jazz was in the throes of great changes. “A celebration”, John says, “of an era when the musicians were stretching the forms”.

“Within A Song” was produced by Manfred Eicher at New York’s Avatar Studios in September 2011.

Abercrombie and Joe Lovano have previously collaborated on ECM for John ‘s “Open Land” album of 1998. They have many a shared jam session behind them. Abercrombie had a quartet for a while with Lovano, Steve Swallow and drummer John Riley. John and Joe also toured internationally with French bassist Henri Texier’s groups.

John Abercombie, Joe Lovano and Drew Gress will be playing material from “Within A Song” in New York’s Birdland club for a week in August, the quartet completed on this occasion by Adam Nussbaum on drums. In November 2012, Abercrombie, Gress and Joey Baron will tour Europe in a quartet completed by tenorist Billy Drewes, last heard on ECM in 1982 on Paul Motian’s “Psalm” album.