Timeless New York Tribute As All-Star Line-Up Gathers In Celebration Of John Abercrombie

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ECM Records chose experimental arts venue Roulette, in Brooklyn, to host a musical tribute to the memory of John Abercrombie, the great guitarist having died in August 2017. The label had gathered together an astounding collection of guest artists (collaborators and friends) to reinterpret his music under the banner Timeless: A Tribute To His Life And Music. Ralph Towner was beset by an acute ear infection in Rome, but everyone else was confirmed, and already in the house. Nate Chinen of NPR (National Public Radio) acted as MC, weaving in reminiscences and direct quotes from the guitarist's admirers, introducing a continuing two-hour-and-more sequence of small group combinations. Unsurprisingly, Roulette was at full capacity, with a queue stretching right along Atlantic Avenue.

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The first few numbers were very mellow and introverted, with Bill Frisell leading the way, partnered by Mark Feldman (violin), Thomas Morgan (bass) and Joey Baron (drums), for a set of delicate and expressionist moods. Nels Cline was up next, in more reined-in mode, with Peter Erskine (drums) and Marc Copland (piano) joining him, the latter doubling as the evening's musical director. The night was building up a softly loungey quality, until John Scofield and Baron returned, to play 'Even Steven', from 1984's Solar, which Abercrombie called 'the bebop album'. He was often dedicated to tranquil exploration, but also had his turbulent, grooving side. Scofield used the blues as a base, but edged them with cowboy frills, Baron broke out his power-hits. He had a big sound, even on the brushes, making tight exchanges with Scofield, the latter sticking around as saxophonist Joe Lovano, bassist Drew Gress and drummer Adam Nussbaum entered. They played 'Easy Reader' and 'Within A Song', the combination of Lovano, Scofield and Nussbaum facilitating a bombastic release. Hornmen Dave Liebman and Randy Brecker cooled down the proceedings, and then the show's final run also returned to a calm state as Frisell came back to deliver a pair of tunes from 1975's Timeless album, 'Ralph's Piano Waltz' and its title number, two of Abercrombie's best-known pieces.

Jack DeJohnette was an august presence, but his drumming was restrained and subtle, following the fiery flashes of Baron and Nussbaum. Also in the house were Evan Parker, Tim Berne (not playing) and ECM founder Manfred Eicher. Besides Abercrombie's undoubted significance as a jazz guitarist, time and again, his old friends alluded to his charming, yet slightly spiky, sense of humour, his generosity, and his self-deprecating wisdom. This was a man who was warmly loved by all of his peers, disciples and students. All proceeds from the concert went to a new scholarship in Abercrombie's name, and contributions are still being gratefully received.

– Martin Longley 
– Photos by Scott Friedlander

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