John Abercrombie's tying together of jazz's many threads made him one of the most influential acoustic and electric guitarists of the 1970s and early '80s; his recordings for ECM have helped define that label's progressive chamber jazz reputation. His star has since faded somewhat, due largely to the general conservatism that's come to dominate jazz, though he has remained a vital creative personality. Abercrombie's style draws upon all manner of contemporary improvised music; his style is essentially jazz-based, but he also displays a more than passing familiarity with forms that range from folk and rock to Eastern and Western art musics.
Abercrombie attended Boston's Berklee College of Music from 1962 to 1966. While at Berklee, the guitarist toured with bluesman Johnny Hammond. After relocating to New York in 1969, Abercrombie spent time in groups led by drummers Chico Hamilton and Billy Cobham. It was with the latter's Spectrum group that Abercrombie first received widespread attention. Abercrombie's first album as leader was Timeless, a trio album with drummer Jack DeJohnette and keyboardist Jan Hammer. That was followed by Gateway, another trio with DeJohnette, and bassist Dave Holland replacing Hammer. Abercrombie's subtle and lyrical style is heard to best effect in small, intimate settings, with the recurring Gateway trio or as captured in duos with fellow guitarist Ralph Towner.
Abercrombie continued to be active as the 21st century opened, releasing Cat 'n' Mouse in 2002, Class Trip in 2004, A Nice Idea (with pianist Andy LaVerne) in 2005, Structures (recorded with a single microphone) in 2006, and Third Quartet in 2007. Wait Till You See Her appeared in 2009. In 2011, the guitarist issued Speak to Me, a duet recording with pianist Marc Copland on the German Pirouet label. He followed it with the quartet recording Within a Song for ECM. His band on the date included drummer Joey Baron, saxophonist Joe Lovano, and bassist Drew Gress. Another quartet session appeared on the label in October of 2013. Entitled 39 Steps, its lineup contained only one change, as Copland replaced Lovano. Uncharacteristically, he released Inspired, a collaborative setting with fellow guitarists Rale Micic, Peter Bernstein, and Lage Lund, for Artistshare in 2016, before returning to ECM with his regular quartet for Up and Coming early the next year. ~ Chris Kelsey