John Abercrombie Dies at 72


John Abercrombie (1944–2017)

(Photo: Courtesy of the artist)

John Abercrombie, an innovative guitarist whose diverse recordings were revered by musicians both within and outside of jazz, died Aug. 22 after a long illness. He was 72.

With a lyrical approach to single-line playing and a painterly way with chord voicings, Abercrombie he was a natural fit for the spacious aesthetic of Manfred Eicher’s ECM label, with whom the guitarist released his breakthrough album, 1975’s Timeless.

Abercrombie would go on to record more than 30 albums as a leader, many of which appeared under the ECM banner, including his January release Up And Coming, which featured pianist Marc Copland, bassist Drew Gress and drummer Joey Baron. The album was reviewed in The Hot Box of DownBeat’s May 2017 issue, and critic Paul de Barros awarded it 4 stars.

“The new album … is another quiet, delicately balanced outing with an ebbing and flowing undercurrent that recalls the understated loveliness of Bill Evans and Jim Hall,” de Barros wrote. “As Abercrombie fans know, the guitarist has dialed back his trademark reverb in favor of a classic, single-note glow. However, listening to his quartet still feels pleasantly like taking a warm sonic bath.”

The review concluded with this commentary: “The album is short, at just over 45 minutes. But when you play with such refined, immaculate clarity, short works.”

On Aug. 23, ECM Records released a statement regarding Abercrombie’s death. It is posted below:

It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of the great guitarist John Abercrombie.
John Abercrombie, one of the great improvisers, died on August 22, after a long illness. He will be much missed, for his sensitive musicality, his good companionship, and his dry humor, which enhanced many a session. He leaves behind an extensive discography which will be studied as long as people continue to play jazz guitar. 
John made his first recording for ECM, the appropriately titled Timeless, in the summer of 1974, with his lifelong friend Jack DeJohnette on the drums and Jan Hammer on organ. Over the next four decades, he was active as leader, co-leader and sideman on dozens of ECM projects. A creative writer of jazz tunes, John also loved to play freely as much as he loved to play standards. Many of his albums combine all of these resources, unified by his fluid, silvery tone and improvisational eloquence.

In conversation he would speak of his enduring fondness for Jim Hall and Wes Montgomery, primary influences, and also of the liberating examples of Ornette Coleman and Jimi Hendrix; Bill Evans’s sense of lyricism was also of crucial importance to him. 
John Abercrombie led a number of very fine bands, and he was particularly proud of his last quartet with Marc Copland on piano, Drew Gress on double bass and Joey Baron on drums. This quartet released two albums, 39 Steps and Up And Coming, the latter just released in January 2017.
Highlights in his recording career were many and include the Gateway trio albums with Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette, the duo albums with Ralph Towner, the New Directions albums (with DeJohnette, Lester Bowie and Eddie Gomez), Jan Garbarek’s Eventyr,  Charles Lloyd’s The Water Is Wide, Collin Walcott’s Grazing Dreams (where John and Don Cherry play together), Enrico Rava’s  The Pilgrim And The Stars, Kenny Wheeler’s Deer Wan … the list goes on.
John died peacefully at Hudson Valley Hospital outside of Peekskill, New York, in the presence of his family.

(Note: The November issue of DownBeat will include a tribute to Abercrombie. To read a feature on Abercrombie, “The Moment Looks for You,” written by Dan Ouellette and published in the October 2012 issue of DownBeat, click here.) DB

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