Friday, January 16, 2015

Classic Albums: John Abercrombie's Timeless

I'm pretty sure I picked up Timeless like I did many of the Jazz recordings I purchased while studying at BGSU for a performance major in guitar: from Finder's Music on mainstreet Bowling Green. I bought ridiculous amounts of music back then- it was my version of retail therapy. Have a great day, maybe a good performance on a Friday afternoon recital? Buy some music. Get shot down by the gal who worked at the gas station down the street? Buy more music. Bored and no gigs? More music.

I can't really remember why I bought Timeless, but it was probably because I had heard the upperclassmen play some of Abercrombie's music in a recital performance, music from the Gateway album.

Right away I was taken by the rapid fire nature of the opening track, "Lungs." I was still at a stage in my appreciation of improvised music that I needed a bit of rock n' roll to keep my attention, and the hot electric guitar that Abercrombie played hooked me in. This was fortunate, as this kept me involved as a listener, allowing me to appreciate the finer points of the interaction between musicians during later listenings.

It was also my introduction to the "ECM Sound," and no, I don't mean the writer for Gamefan magazine- I mean the label that would kind of define 1970s jazz - austere album covers (I loved the album design for Timeless so much that I essentially copied this for Zeitgeber) combined with music that sounded like it was recorded in large concert halls as opposed to tiny recording studio rooms with foam padding.

I'm one of those people who see music in colors, and Timeless to me always evokes a black void, with dancing lines of color exploding forth- the expansiveness of the "ECM Sound" fully at work. And oh, the sounds of Jan Hammer! Like so many things Jan plays on, he tends to chew scenery, but everyone is up to the task of matching him. "Red and Orange" is my second favorite track, which features Jan's organ work, which almost sounds like something from Rick Wakeman.

But to me, the thing that makes Timeless special is that it is unusually aggressive for Abercrombie. His style is pretty understated and after getting "spoiled" by the burning of Timeless, I went on a fruitless quest to find more of his work that was in that style- and was sadly disappointed (only "Gateway" would come close). It isn't to say that his playing isn't very good- but I wanted to hear him burn, and he just doesn't do that on recordings (though I did like his standards album with Scofield).

As for its influence on me, I think the constant ostinato droning and long form interaction had a huge impact. You probably hear it most on things like "Short Expedition #2" and "Short Expedition #1" on the Paragon albums, and you hear it all over the place on Zeitgeber, which in many ways was my attempt to do the ECM thing, though with much more of a rock edge. When I would play with guys at the Easy Street Cafe, we'd often to these long form jams just like on Timeless- trying to do those interesting interactions with each other- group conversations, not hampered by "changes" like in Bebop, but not throwing all the tonality out the window either- Free jazz with some rules to make it somewhat listenable.

Of course my friends and I couldn't really approach what these legends were doing, but it helped us grow as players to try. Later, when I did my brief attempt at grad school in jazz studies, I was really turned off by the student's attempts to "play free-" it just came off as aggressive chaos; I'd like to think that spinning this record a few times for them would have gotten them back down to earth.

No comments:

Post a Comment