John Abercrombie and Kenny Wheeler and Paul Bley and Gary Peacock and Paul Motian

National Records

John Abercrombie

Open Land (ECM)

Kenny Wheeler

A Long Time Ago (ECM)

Paul Bley, Gary Peacock, Paul Motian


ECM ranks among the great independent jazz labels, along with Commodore, Blue Note, Savoy, and Prestige. Some fans tend to put its albums down as New Agey, but ECM never recorded George Winston. Chick Corea, on the other hand, Keith Jarrett, Gary Burton, Paul Bley, Paul Motian, Don Cherry, the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Kenny Wheeler, Pat Metheny, John Abercrombie, and lesser-known musicians including Art Lande and Bobo Stenson have cut wonderful albums for ECM. Currently, Joe Maneri has been doing great work for the label. This trio of albums is, like many ECM releases, typified by warm, thoughtful work. Pioneering fusion guitarist John Abercrombie appears with an all-star band including trumpeter Wheeler, tenorman Joe Lovano, violinist Mark Feldman, organist Dan Wall, and drummer Adam Nussbaum. His album seems to pick up where Miles Davis' In a Silent Way left off. The music is unhurried, cerebral, and lyrical. All of the soloists display sensitivity and melodic inventiveness. Lovano, perhaps inspired by his top-notch bandmates, turns in some of the most imaginative soloing he's done in the past several years. Wheeler and Abercrombie challenge themselves as well; they really invent, avoiding cliches like the plague. On his album, Wheeler's featured on flugelhorn, fronting a brass ensemble containing four trumpets, two trombones, and two bass trombones, as well as pianist John Taylor and guitarist John Parrnicelli. Since there's no bassist or drummer and neither Taylor nor Parrnicelli state a beat, the brass stand out even more; this is music containing counterpoint and swiftly changing harmonies, and there are nice contrasts between the brass sound and the piano and/or guitar. Wheeler sounds fine on flugelhorn; he's got its big tone and still plays well in the upper register. He's influenced by Miles Davis, but long ago developed an original style. Taylor and Parrnicelli also make impressive contributions. Pianist Paul Bley, bassist Gary Peacock, and drummer Paul Motian are great musicians individually and have worked together quite a bit, so there's some complex interaction between them; this isn't a piano being constantly accompanied by bass and drums. On some tracks, the group's performances don't jell, mainly because Bley plays tentatively and without direction. When he pulls it together and improvises the kind of pretty lines that marked his work with Keith Jarrett, though, it's a pleasure to hear these guys. Peacock's consistently masterful, sometimes playing percussively, sometimes more melodically. Though uneven, the group's best tracks make their album worth hearing.

(John Abercrombie) ****

(Kenny Wheeler) ***

(Bley, Peacock, Motian) **.5

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