Thursday, April 30, 2009

Abercrombie's Backward Glance

John Abercrombie is one of the instantly recognizable jazz guitar stylists. His sound and conception have a pastoral elegance attuned to Indian Raga or Persian modal improvisations as much as it does to his precursors in the jazz world such as Bill Evans, Jim Hall, and Miles Davis.

Characters is the only completely solo record Abercrombie ever made, and my personal favorite of his many releases. It was recorded for ECM by Manfred Eicher in Oslo, Norway in November of 1977. The album is distinguished by Abercrombie’s blend of acoustic guitars – primarily as chordal background – with melodies overlayed by the electric guitar, and occasionally, electric mandolin. Together, the acoustic and electric never sound crowded but complement one another like entwined branches of a vine.

The songs, all Abercrombie originals, are at once lyrical and harmonically daring, reminiscent of compositions of Evans like Blue in Green; they seem to be heading for a familiar resolution but pause to take another sidepath that opens out into something else.
Backward Glance from Characters

...(listening now, my take on it)

letting go
the handles
a bicyclist rounds a street corner
dream messenger
voice and touch of fingertips
remembrance of pathways in sunken cities
steps winding down always to a new door
light filtered by waves above
from tears of a thousand burning suns
of long gone galaxies
and curtains of persian night

forgotten the way back

awakened slow
eyelid blinks
flutter of wings
murmur of the heart

Abercrombie in the 70's

* Here is an interesting (at least to the explorative musical types) youtube clip with Abercrombie recently demonstrating the art and discipline of improvising on one string. By restricting the sonic "palette" to a narrower range, the musician finds resources to break out of the box of mechanical playing and away from licks that habitually "fall under the fingers". John starts with a basic Lydian modal thing and then uses the same approach against the chord changes to "Stella By Starlight".


Trombonology said...

Well, I'm glad to have finally gotten an opportunity to test-drive one of the "Characters" cuts in its entirety. After you elsewhere mentioned the album, I looked it up at Amazon but, with this sort of music, those 30 second samples just don't make it. I just couldn't get a proper idea of what to expect.

"Backward Glance" is a very impressionistic piece that seems to invite the type of artistic exercise you undertook. And I could hear those images of yours! All music, for sure, encourages you, with a note or a chord or a sequence thereof, to play a game of sound-word association, but what I heard here (and what I now see those brief samples were hinting at) is something that, with its structural looseness, calls out for a kind of listener interaction.

Haven't yet attempted the single string exercise, as demonstrated by "Stella." Even before he made his "Indian music" comment, I was thinking of George H. and his sitar. ... Discipline, indeed!

Tom the Piper's Son said...

I came to Abercrombie in the 70's via his recording of "Timeless" - a very "raga-like" piece - and have been a great fan ever since. There is great stuff on most of his records but, intimist (?) that I am, I like Characters best.

As i was on the Characters kick I went out and bought an Abercrombie transcription book that has "Paramour" in it. It appears now, as best as I can "follow the bouncing balls" that it's a version from another record and not Characters where it originally appeared. Dang!! Still- I want to learn it...

Anonymous said...

I like to learn something new and I've just learned about Abercrombie from you. Thanks!


Tom the Piper's Son said...

Paz - I'm glad to hear i could introduce something new and of interest.
The thing about these blogs is that I always learn something myself in doing research beyond my initial enthusiasms - it always takes me on a journey, just as your beautiful photos do.

Matthew H Camp said...

You sure have my number. Way into this!!!