The heady and soothing sounds of John Abercrombie and Ralph Towner this weekend. Completely apropos and a wonderful reminder of what a talent John Abercrombie was and how much he is missed, since his passing in August of last year. John Abercrombie had a career that touched on many genres, as was evidenced by the collaborations he was involved in since the late 1960s and the extraordinary number of albums he recorded since that time. But he was known for an understated style that came into its own when he began his long association with Manfred Eicher and the ECM label.
Abercrombie began experimenting with a guitar synthesizer in 1984 while recording in a trio with Marc Johnson on bass and Peter Erskine on drums and while working with Paul Bley in a free jazz group. He played the guitar-synth until around 1990. The synthesizer allowed him to play, as he described it “louder, more open music.” Abercrombie’s trio released three albums during this time showcasing the guitar-synth: Current Events (1986), Getting There (1987) with Michael Brecker, and John Abercrombie, Marc Johnson, & Peter Erskine (1989).
The 1990s and 2000s marked a time of constantly changing associations. In 1992, Abercrombie, drummer Adam Nussbaum and Hammond organist Jeff Palmer made a free-jazz recording. He then started a trio with Nussbaum and organist Dan Wall and released While We Were Young (1992), Speak of the Devil (1994), and Tactics (1997). He added trumpeter Kenny Wheeler, violinist Mark Feldman and saxophonist Joe Lovano to the trio to record Open Land (1999). The Gateway band reunited for the album Homecoming (1995).
Abercrombie continued to tour and record and remained associated with ECM, with whom he had a relationship for more than 40 years. While firmly grounded in the jazz guitar tradition, he also experimented with electronic effects. As he said in an interview, “I’d like people to perceive me as having a direct connection to the history of jazz guitar, while expanding some musical boundaries.”
Ralph Towner has made notable recordings of jazz, third stream under strong influence of folk and world music. He began his career as a conservatory-trained classical pianist, who picked up guitar in his senior year in college, then joined world music pioneer Paul Winter’s “Consort” ensemble in the late 1960s. Along with bandmates Paul McCandless, Glen Moore, and Collin Walcott, Towner left the Winter Consort in 1970 to form the group Oregon, which over the course of the 1970s issued a number of highly influential records mixing folk music, Indian classical forms, and avant-garde jazz-influenced free improvisation. At the same time, Towner began a longstanding relationship with the influential ECM record label, which has released virtually all of his non-Oregon recordings since his 1972 debut as a leader Trios / Solos. Towner has also made numerous appearances as a sideman, perhaps most famously on jazz fusion heavyweights Weather Report’s 1972 album I Sing the Body Electric.
This particular collaboration, in a concert recorded at North German Radio’s Funkhaus (broadcasting studio) in Hamburg on May 8, 1984 made its way to release via NDR’s in-house label. If you haven’t had a chance to hear it, now’s your opportunity.
Enjoy and relax.