Review

JOHN ABERCROMBIE Up And Coming

Album · 2017 · Post Bop
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4/5 ·
Steve Wyzard
WINTERY

Despite being 12 minutes shorter, if you liked John Abercrombie's 2013 album 39 Steps, you should also enjoy 2017's Up and Coming. It features the same supporting cast (Marc Copland, piano, Drew Gress, double bass, Joey Baron, drums) and occupies a similar subtle, measured sound world. Which is not to say the two albums are carbon copies of each other. The end-of-summer wistfulness of 39 Steps has been replaced by a duskier, even chillier atmosphere on Up and Coming that fits in well with the ECM Records "winter afternoon jazz" mystique.

All the players are in fine form, and everyone receives plenty of solo space. This is definitely a band album, with not any one performer (least of all Abercrombie) dominating the material. Whimsically, Up and Coming opens with its two shortest compositions: a dirge entitled "Joy", and the up-tempo "Flipside" that is over before it starts. Copland's searching, thoughtful playing on "Sunday School" and the stately-yet-sobering "Tears" are true highlights. Gress's rumbling double-bass work and the brushes and cymbals of Baron contribute extensively to the album's hushed, sunset-glow textures. Still, it's Abercrombie's poignant, understated tones that make this album unique, with his soloing on "Silver Circle" and "Jumbles" letting everyone know that he hasn't been relegated to a "supporting player".

Since its release, Up and Coming has taken on an added pathos after proving to be Abercrombie's final album with his passing in August 2017. There are no foreboding glimpses into the abyss, nor is this a "grand summation"/"career retrospective" album. Comparisons to recordings from decades past are rather pointless, as Up and Coming looks neither backward nor forward. It's simply four marvelously talented players doing what they do best, saying everything they have to say in 47:16. In spite of its ironic title, this is a worthy addition to the discographies of all the performers, and like 95% of everything Abercrombie ever released, will stand the test of time and repeated listening. Special mention must be made of Sheilah Rechtschaffer's remarkable cover pastel, which (like many ECM covers) visually captures and encapsulates the music contained within.
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