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Jazz guitarist John Abercrombie explores a galaxy of sound

Wednesday, Jul 31 2002
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Though far from a household name, jazz guitarist John Abercrombie has built a respectable fan base and garnered critical honors by going his own way since his mid-'70s jazz fusion start. On his stunning new album, Cat 'n' Mouse, the gifted composer/improviser stands out from popular contemporaries such as Pat Metheny and John Scofield, surrounding himself with world-class collaborators and exploring adventurous terrain.

A lucid bandleader and virtuosic sideman, Abercrombie has appeared on dozens of recordings for the distinctive ECM label, which is both esteemed and vilified for producer Manfred Eicher's airy, almost pristine production values. Eicher's format suits the guitarist especially well on Cat 'n' Mouse, providing a palpable, almost cushiony sense of space into which Abercrombie's group weaves its music. Throughout, Abercrombie rarely loses focus, whether applying ocean-deep melodies or amping up cosmic improvs at maximum overdrive.

What really makes these songs shine, however, is the rapport Abercrombie shares with his bandmates -- Mark Feldman (violin), Joey Baron (drums), and Marc Johnson (bass). Though the title of the disc may conjure up images of a wild chase between predator and prey, the music actually sounds more like an ever-shifting balancing act among top-notch players, an act that has always been an Abercrombie specialty.

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Sam Prestianni

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