Review Summary: All that jazz!
John Abercrombie - Guitar
Dave Holland - Bass
Jack DeJohnette - Drums
For the longest time I couldn’t find a record store with a good variety of jazz in my hometown. Last week while walking downtown in the chilly November air my eyes came across a shop window with pictures of several classical composers. My eyes shifted focus inside, and without too much surprise I discovered it was in fact a record store. ‘Funny, I’ve never noticed this before’ was my reaction and reading the stores tag line, ‘world’s finest music emporium’ I was immediately intrigued. Plus it was cold, and I had an hour and a half to kill before my friend’s birthday dinner was to commence. Low and behold, this store had a wide variety of jazz and classical music and I immediately began to skim the shelves. Where to begin! When the store clerk, seemingly a little surprised a person of my age was in the previously empty store, asked if he could help me I replied, ‘got any Dave Holland?’
After rummaging through the Dave Holland section I decided upon his Quartet’s album Extensions and this album, Gateway with John Abercrombie and Jack DeJohnette. This is technically a John Abercrombie album, and for those of you uneducated on the man, he is a modern jazz guitarist similar in vein to Pat Metheny or John Scofield. I only knew about John Abercrombie from a previous review I found on this site a few weeks prior and after downloading some of his stuff and seeing that he was on an album with Dave Holland, I was very interested. Luckily the class musicianship and song writing on Gateway did not disappoint. Blending traditional and progressive jazz fusion together, John Abercrombie has created a compelling musical experience that any jazz fan would appreciate.
One aspect of Abercrombie’s song writing I find interesting is his ability to use band interplay as the body of his work instead of always soloing. For example in May Dance, the album centerpiece, Holland and Abercrombie feed off each other with Abercrombie shaping his melodies around Holland’s bass line. DeJohnette on the kit provides interesting textures over top, never really settling into one constant groove, his drumming is fill-oriented and constantly shifts gears into different meters. Not until the near the end of the piece, after Abercrombie and Holland take turns making interesting solos, does DeJohnette find a steady groove. This is typical of the drumming throughout the album, it’s always busy, but never over taxing on the listener, merely an added texture to the work. Jamala also shows of the interplay ability of the trio, most notably Holland and Abercrombie again. The piece sees the guitar toned down a bit, trading in the shredding for a more melodic turn. Again the bass and guitar intertwine themselves in what is easily the prettiest piece on the album.
Dave Holland’s bass playing on the album is silky smooth, like everything else he does. Perhaps biased on my part (seeing as he is probably my favourite bass player in full disclosure), I find that Holland has a keen sense of rooting progressive jazz into a traditional base. Take for example, Unshielded Desire, a piece that is essentially one long shredding solo by Abercrombie with loud and busy drums to accompany. Think Bird of Fire era Mahavishnu Orchestra and you’re on the right track. However, listen carefully to the bass; it’s constant, steady, keeping time and keeping the base chord progression, in the traditional way that provides the ground for Abercrombie’s progressive freak-out to stand on. Not that Holland is purely traditionalists, after all this is the guy who played with Miles Davis on both Bitches Brew and In a Silent Way (holy influential batman!), but still he acts the ying to Abercrombie’s yang.
John Abercrombie treats his guitar like a blank canvas, with no limit to what he can create. While maintaining a technical prowess in the traditional sense, he isn’t afraid to experiment with the sounds the guitar is able to create. The opening of Sorcery 1 is clearly indicative of this as Abercrombie spends the better part of the first two minutes creating various feedback and droning noises. It’s a really interesting turn to see in a jazz album, and this is another quality to Abercrombie’s work. He is able to create a sense of dissonance in his music that can be missing at times from jazz. This ultimately benefits the album in a genre where the recordings are often thought of secondary tools to the live performance.
The musicianship on this album is all round superb. The trio seem comfortable with each other, and all three add their own unique styling to the fray. It’s a difficult progressive jazz fusion album that remains approachable to many a listener. Fans of Mahavishnu Orchestra would find an interest in this album, though this tends to stay in more accessible time signatures (ie. there aren’t any 19/8 songs on this album. Yeah, I’m looking at you Celestial Terrestrial Commuters.) I highly recommend this album, definitely to jazz fans; but also to all the metal heads, indie kids, and whatevers perusing the site. It was a solid buy, and needless to say I will be heading back to that record shop the next time I need some jazz fixins’, which could be very soon.