John Abercrombie – Characters (1977)

FrontCover1John Laird Abercrombie (December 16, 1944 – August 22, 2017) was an American jazz guitarist. His work explored jazz fusion, free jazz, and avant-garde jazz. Abercrombie studied at Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts. He was known for his understated style and his work with organ trios- (by wikipedia)

Characters is a solo album by guitarist John Abercrombie that was recorded in 1977 and released by ECM in 1978.

Just four months after the historic Gateway 2 session, John Abercrombie stepped into Oslo’s Talent Studio to record Characters, his first and only solo album for ECM. While the guitarist’s trademark electric lurks here and there, a modified mandolin takes the strongest lead. The album also features about as much acoustic as one is likely to hear from Abercrombie in one sitting. All of this makes for sonic perfection.

At nearly 11 minutes, “Parable” is the longest cut on the album. A plaintive mandolin seems to stretch its strings as Abercrombie adds almost sitar-like cadences until, about halfway through, we realize this is but the stem of an overarching flower, which reveals its full bloom in an acoustic umbrella. With peerless thematic acuity, Abercrombie reconfigures his melodic matrix in “Memoir,” a nostalgic acoustic duet, each channel part of a spontaneous conversation. It is the most fleeting track on the album, but also the most intuitive. Next, Abercrombie transmits a “Telegram” straight into our souls. Like the message of its title, it is formless during transmission, but arrives in tangible form through the advent of technology, of which performance is Abercrombie’s medium of choice. His involuntary humming harmonizes with itself in a subconscious overdubbed chamber choir. “Backward Glance” recalls the title of Steve Kuhn’s classic tune.


Dense acoustic chording spins powerful thermals upon which Abercrombie spreads his electric wings, drawing a feathered curtain over our eyes in the final strum. The spindly diversions of “Ghost Dance” percolate like anesthesia through the bloodstream before “Paramour” makes its debut as another acoustic duet (Abercrombie would soon resurrect it at the heart of his first quartet album, Arcade). More of the same awaits us in “After Thoughts,” where every pause feels like a deep breath that is at last exhaled in a luxurious chord. Lastly, through the liquid sheen of “Evensong” we catch visions of ourselves at different ages. After a silence, an acoustic hand opens its fingers wide as one electric swells in accompaniment and the other glides like a stingray for a sublime finish.

The album’s title is a prescient one. In addition to glyphs on a writing surface, “characters” are people, animals, or any other living creature whose desires animate a story. They might also be the traits of those creatures, or even the morals that define their personalities. Here, we encounter all of these and more, threaded ever so genuinely by one musician’s unique sense of space-time. For anyone wishing to peer into the soul behind the sound, let this be your window. (pree release)

John Abercrombie

Always unique and uncompromising, John Abercrombie gained a good deal of his popularity from his solo playing. Not the virtuoso of his primary influences — Django Reinhardt, Tal Farlow and Jim Hall — Abercrombie is much more the introvert. He often bypasses traditional techniques to pursue experimental sounds and rhythms. Along with Ralph Towner, whom he has recorded with before (see Sargasso Sea), Abercrombie makes excellent use of space within both his compositions and solos. Upon the first listen there may not appear to be very much here; however, this music needs to be absorbed over several listens to appreciate Abercrombie’s brilliance. (by Robert Taylor)


John Abercrombie (guitar, mandolin)


01. Parable 10.40
02. Memoir 3.14
03. Telegram 4.36
04. Backward Glance 4.37
05. Ghost Dance 7.02
06. Paramour 3.52
07. After Thoughts 3.22
08. Evensong 7.35

Composed by John Abercrombie



John Laird Abercrombie (December 16, 1944 – August 22, 2017)

John Abercrombie – Getting There (1987)

FrontCover1.jpgGetting There is a 1988 album by jazz guitarist John Abercrombie with bassist Marc Johnson and drummer Peter Erskine. Tenor saxophonist Michael Brecker plays on three tracks.

The Penguin Guide to Jazz gave the album 3 stars. (by wikipedia)

The music on this 1988 release from guitarist John Abercrombie is groomed to such aseptic perfection that little remains of the musical personalities behind these sounds. Abercrombie, bassist Marc Johnson, drummer Peter Erskine, and saxophonist Michael Brecker (on three tracks) turn in immaculate performances, rich in technique and austere, cerebral exchanges, but despite the musical prowess, the listener is left to gaze on blankly, uninvolved. The malaise is typified by Abercrombie’s guitar synthesizer, which too frequently renders the leader’s brush strokes in a muted monochrome. Similarly, while the signature “Fortress of Solitude” chill of an ECM date is not the issue, the release’s enervating engineering does sap the vitality from these performances. There are, nestled among this generally reflective, introverted music, some rewarding bits, notably Abercrombie’s short jazz waltz, “Labour Day,” where he sets aside the guitar synthesizer and electronic enhancements to serve up some delicious straight-ahead sounds.


Two of the tracks with Brecker, Abercrombie’s “Sidekicks” and Johnson’s “Furs on Ice,” have initially engaging melodies and rhythmic interest, but their promise is not realized. These two tracks would make excellent instrumental beds for a pair of latter day Steely Dan songs, but they do not sustain interest on their own. Musicians of the caliber of Abercrombie, Johnson, Erskine, and Brecker cannot fail to generate interest when they get together. This time out, though, their efforts would have been better presented as a master class workshop. The broader fan base, however, can take a pass. (by Jim Todd)


John Abercrombie (guitar, guitar synthesizer)
Peter Erskine (drums)
Marc Johnson (bass)
Michael Brecker (saxophone on 01., 04. + 06.)


01. Sidekicks (Abercrombie) 5.22
02. Upon A Time (Abercrombie) 4.29
03. Getting There (Abercrombie) 7.40
04. Remember Hymn (Abercrombie) 5.18
05. Thalia (Mendoza) 4.21
06. Furs On Ice (Johnson) 8.13
07. Chance (Abercrombie) 5.01
08. Labour Day (Abercrombie) 3.47




John Laird Abercrombie (December 16, 1944 – August 22, 2017)

John Abercrombie – Gateway (1975)

FrontCover1John Abercrombie, renowned jazz guitar player, bandleader, and teacher, has died at the age of 72. He passed away yesterday evening at his home in Cortland, New York, according to an announcement on his Facebook page. The Ottawa Citizen and The Wire report the cause of death as heart failure, related to a stroke Abercrombie experienced earlier this year.

Abercrombie was an influential guitar stylist who, after getting his start as a session musician and sideman with artists like Gato Barbieri, Billy Cobham, and Gil Evans, came into prominence as a bandleader in the 1970s through his recordings on the ECM label. His debut album, Timeless, is particularly renowned, featuring synth/organist Jan Hammer (of Mahavishnu Orchestra and Miami Vice soundtrack fame) and Miles Davis and Keith Jarrett collaborator Jack DeJohnette on drums. Abercrombie helped to define the trademark, ethereal, and genre-defying sound of the ECM label along with artists like Jarrett, Gary Burton, and Pat Metheny. He also played and recorded on-and-off for decades in the trio Gateway, with Jarrett, DeJohnette, and legendary bassist Dave Holland.


In the ’80s, Abercrombie began playing on a guitar synthesizer and experiments with outlandish effects to expand the sound palette of his instrument, working in fusion and free-jazz idioms. He was also gifted as a performer of traditional jazz standards, and known for his muted, technically adept style and complex and imaginative harmonic sensibility. He released an album in January, Up and Coming, on ECM in January of this year, billed to The John Abercrombie Quartet. (


And here´s his debut album from 1975 …

Gateway is the debut album by Gateway, a trio composed of John Abercrombie, Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette. It was recorded in 1975 and released on the ECM label in 1976.

The Penguin Guide to Jazz called it a “reflective album, but it is by no means sombre” stating “Abercrombie seems to like the open rhythmic weave and plays acoustically with great confidence and finely controlled timbre and dynamics. Holland is by no means playing at his best but he is incapable of mere journeywork and asserts his presence in the harmonic transitions i a way that more than makes up for the absence of keyboards”[3] The Allmusic review by Scott Yanow states “The interplay between the three musicians is quite impressive although listeners might find some of the music to be quite unsettling. It takes several listens for one to digest all that is going on, but it is worth the struggle”.[(by wikipedia)


Guitarist John Abercrombie was one of the stars of ECM in its early days. His playing on this trio set with bassist Dave Holland and drummer Jack DeJohnette is really beyond any simple categorization. Abercrombie’s improvisations are sophisticated yet, because his sound is rockish and sometimes quite intense (particularly on the nearly 11-minute “Sorcery 1”), there is really no stylistic name for the music. Holland contributed four of the six originals while DeJohnette brought in the other two (one of which was co-written with Abercrombie). The interplay between the three musicians is quite impressive although listeners might find some of the music to be quite unsettling. It takes several listens for one to digest all that is going on, but it is worth the struggle. (by Scott Yanow)


John Abercrombie (guitar)
Dave Holland (bass)
Jack DeJohnette (drums)

01. Back-Woods Song (Holland) – 7:51
02. Waiting (Holland) – 2:10
03. May Dance (Holland) – 11:01
04. Unshielded Desire (DeJohnette/Abercrombie) – 4:49
05. Jamala (Holland) – 4:47
06. Sorcery I (DeJohnette) – 10:56