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John Abercrombie - Class Trip

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Artist: John Abercrombie

Album: Class Trip

Label: ECM

Review date: Jul. 4, 2004

With his darkly-burnished tone and the spiky, yet lyrical, construction of his melodic lines, John Abercrombie has been consistently one of the most interesting and subtly surprising of the post-Bitches Brew rock-inflected jazz guitarists. His large and varied body of work on ECM reveals an artist with an organic, perhaps even geological, approach to composition and improvisation: There’s a satisfying inevitability to the way his phrasing, his approach to harmony, and his tonal touch work to create a metamorphic musical expression.

On Class Trip, Abercrombie finds himself in especially sympathetic musical company. The ever-inventive rhythm section of Marc Johnson on double-bass and drummer Joey Baron is at once hyperactive and supple, pushing and pulling at the parameters of the compositions, stretching and compressing time without ever losing the pulse. These guys are not afraid to drop perfectly timed explosive accents into the general mood of lyrical, pastoral melodicism, nor are they afraid of settling into the occasional straightforward 4/4 swing. Abercrombie himself plays like quicksilver; his ever-so-slightly-distorted lines and his chordal comping are so smooth and perfectly-conceived that it takes a few listens to recognize the thrilling beauty at the heart of his playing.

The secret master of these sessions, though, is violinist Mark Feldman. With a gorgeous, present tone, and an emotional, romantic vibrato, he weaves his way through these pieces with an unerring instinct for melody and communication. Even his most dissonant, abstract ideas are delivered with such sure confidence that they register as dignified and honest expressions of emotion.

The touchstones for Class Trip seem to be the close-up group interplay of Bill Evan’s great trio with Paul Motian and Scott LaFaro, along with a connection, via violin and guitar, to the instrumentation and emotional intensity of the first two Mahavishnu Orchestra albums. These elements, combined with superb musicianship and the leader’s spacious compositions, provide Class Trip with the sort of sonic allure that leads to repeated listening.

By Kevin Macneil Brown

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