If Jim Hall is considered the father of modern jazz guitar then John Abercrombie is perhaps the next logical step in the evolutionary process. After a long tour and on the verge of releasing what may arguably be his finest work yet, I had the good fortune and John Abercrombie was gracious enough to field a few questions for us.
This sounds a tad cliche but when “reviewing” certain artists, I revert back to a stock phrase “Genius reviews itself, you simply honor it.” What I mean by that is I know what an impact Jim Hall had on your artistic development. What makes Within A Song work so well is that it not only captures one of the most significant era’s of jazz but it gives the listener an insight into your musical DNA by showcasing how your own tastes were shaped. How does it feel as an artist to see and hear other artists refer to you in the same fashion that you refer to Jim Hall?
J.A. - "Jim Hall was probably the most important guitar influence for me of all time – mostly through the recording “The Bridge” with Sonny Rollins which I set out to showcase on “Within A Song”. It was Jim’s ability to not only solo brilliantly but his accompaniment of Sonny that attracted me in my early years. He taught me that you don’t have to accompany with full chords all the time but that you can become a partner with the soloist by adding contrapuntal ideas. Also his chord voicings were far beyond the norm for guitarists from that era. For me, he took jazz guitar in a new direction.
To answer the second part of your question, it’s an honor when people tell me I’ve influenced them though actually it’s very difficult to hear yourself when listening to another player – but if I do, it’s usually something that I had gotten from Jim Hall so it’s about lineage or passing things along."
Was bringing Joe Lovano’s creativity into such an impressive mix of tunes in any way intimidating and can you describe Manfred Eicher’s influence in producing what is to me perhaps your finest work to date? Correct me if I am wrong but I noticed some incredibly inventive reharmonization of some melodic passages but you pull them off with an organic cohesion almost like the working bands of the 60’s and the melodies take on that same organic charm and are not ever mangled with self indulgence as some players wind up doing today.
J.A. - "Coming together with Joe Lovano on this project was probably one of the easiest and most natural things for me to do. The repertoire that I chose was one that would allow us to play in a familiar territory and we all felt a deep communication right away.
I’ve had the privilege of working with Manfred Eicher since the 70s and the way he has influenced every project was by allowing me to be myself while at the same time challenging me with his ideas. He’s a hands-on producer – he doesn’t just sit there and say that’s good or not good – he always has ideas and they influence the outcome…but at the same time he allows you to do what you do.
I did do some reharmonization and slight alterations on some of the standard songs – but not all of them… Glad to know you find it inventive!
I tried to remain as true to the compositions as I could – but at the same time make sure there was room for all of our musical personalities to come through. "
In addition to work from Miles Davis, Bill Evans, and John Coltrane we are treated to 3 original compositions. “Nick of Time” grabbed my attention immediately. A nice lyrical sense of purpose, interesting harmonics that are pushing the post bop envelope but still accessible with individual solos from Drew Gress and Joe Lovano that really transcend the self imposed limitations that some genres force upon an artist. Where the originals recorded here done specifically for this project or were they tunes you had already developed in one form or another?
J.A. - “Nick of Time” and “Easy Reader” are new compositions that I wrote specifically for this project. I agree with you that they have interesting harmonies and forms but this is my normal approach to composition so I don’t see them as very different from what I’ve written before. “Within a Song” is a new melody that I wrote on the structure of “Without a Song” and you actually only hear “Without a Song” in the last 8 measures."
The label post bop seems to be thrust upon you the most by critics. As a tenor player I I avoid labels whenever possible do you agree with the post bop sub genre label or does it even matter. And what makes a good critic? Is listening truly a lost art?
J.A. - "It doesn’t really matter what label is put on the music… If people need a genre to codify the music that’s OK for them – I don’t need one myself.
I think a good critic should have some knowledge of the music itself and really enjoy listening. For me a good critic is not afraid to say what he feels.
I truly hope listening is not a lost art."
Coming July 31st - Within A Song Special thanks to John Abercrombie and my friends at ECM Records, voted best label 2012 by J.J.A!