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Vale John Abercrombie, subtle guitar hero.

We have just lost one of the most consistently rewarding guitarists.

Musically speaking, many “guitar heroes” do not age well; John Abercrombie (December 16, 1944 – August 22, 2017) made some of his finest music after his 65th birthday.


(photo of John Abercrombie by John Rogers for ECM Records – the label for whom the guitarist made most of his best albums)

One of the better obituaries for John Abercrombie  – click here – includes examples of his music.

Its headline accurately described him as  a “wry and exploratory jazz guitarist”.

Abercrombie is still described by some (who, presumably, last listened to him at least 40 years ago) as a jazz-rock fusion guitar hero.

He did indeed – briefly – inhabit that genre; nearly half a century ago John Abercrombie, Billy Cobham and the Brecker Brothers were bandmates in Dreams, and Abercrombie was one of the guitar synthesizer’s first prominent, proficient exponents.

Abercrombie, however, moved on long ago.

I was amused – some time late last century, I think – when he remarked that he had entirely given up both tobacco and the guitar synththesizer, “the former for my physical health, the latter for my musical health.”

These past several decades any John Abercrombie concert was about subtlety, substance, introspection and interplay between like-minded, highly alert musicians – longstanding colleagues/friends, all still exploring, never coasting, never showboating.

His final regular group was particularly fine – a quartet with pianist Marc Copland, double bassist Drew Gress and drummer Joey Baron.

Click here to see and hear a beautiful (and well-recorded) 2013 exploration of a Hitchcock-referencing Abercrombie original:

(Video troubleshooting advice: it is likely that the video will auto-roll,  but be “strangely silent”. If so, touch the video-display, so that the “controls” then become visible. The speaker icon may well be in “mute” mode. If so, click it, and you should then have audio)

The studio version of Vertigo is on the John Abercrombie Quartet’s 2013 ECM album 39 Steps.



Published in 'western' musics instrumental music music


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