John Abercrombie 1944-2017:

You know this cat right? I don’t even need to tell you? John Abercrombie was one helluva’ guitarist & band leader. during the 70’s, Abercrombie began to lead the exceptional Gateway trio with Dave Holland on double-bass & Jack Dejohnette shedding splinters. This culminated in two brilliant albums – 75’s Gateway & 78’s Gateway 2. They were both preceded by Timeless from 74, which encompassed Jan Hammer on keys rather than Holland. The overture track on Timeless, “Lungs”, has a ferocious tempo prompting Jack to expel some of the fastest Turbo Swing you will hear him dispense in his career (perhaps being rivaled only by his “Song X” LP with Ornette Coleman & Pat Metheny from 85). It also features a fantastic gracile exchange between John & Jan, all whilst belting through a cloud scape at terminal velocity.

Resurrecting the Gateway thread, the two albums mentioned have the personnel conjuring some of the most singular & distinguished Avant-Jazz-Fusion, forgoing the predictable commercialism for something far more sensitive, organic (I know! It’s the most generic term, but it’s absolutely felicitous here) & modestly intellectual. The result is very “other”, it’s almost an alternative Fusion that resides in the small enclave between Jazz & Fusion, also combining Free, Avant-garde & Off Road prescriptions to great effect. Abercrombie participated in a lot of Dejohnettes 70’s recordings (Pictures, New Directions, Sorcery, Cosmic Chicken, Untitled, New Rags etc) & the Gateway trio also joined Sitar player Collin Walcott on his Cloud Dance LP that was recorded in 75. It was decades later in 94 that the trinity would return for two more ECM studio dates & produce Homecoming & In the Moment. Having been so attached to the first two Gateway LP’s, it was a duality of trepidation & excitement to delve into these later recordings, both of which turned out to be excellent. The earlier work still maintains a unique magic that I can’t quite articulate. Johns style of play really glides weaves, coils & coruscates in it’s own domain. He often integrates immense fragility & expressions of what I would describe as natural beauty, not necessarily constrained to conventional guitar work & more in the territory of “sound” & emotion. The Gateway albums/scenario particularly granted the ideal conditions to imbue & pursue this idiosyncrasy. This resource was also spliced with harder & more kinetic themes, as well as more traditional Jazz conduct. In terms of sound & personality, I think Abercrombie really had his own stake firmly embedded in the mossiest part of the enchanted forest. The only character I know to play with such delicate grace & take such a contrasting & stand-alone approach to Fusion/Jazz Fusion would be Michael Gregory Jackson.

Most of Johns stuff, & certainly the Gateway CD’s, are still very much in circulation from ECM.

I crafted a mix of some of my favorite Gateway material & pressed it into this excerpt mp3 –