JOHN ABERCROMBIE — While We're Young (review)

JOHN ABERCROMBIE — While We're Young album cover Album · 1993 · Fusion Buy this album from MMA partners
3.5/5 ·
Steve Wyzard
THUNDERSTORM FADING TO SLOW DRIZZLE

The 1990s were not a golden age for ECM Records in general, or for John Abercrombie in particular. He entered the decade still focused on the guitar-synth/electronic experimentalism that was not popular with his fan base. Then he formed the trio featured on this album, with Dan Wall on Hammond organ and Adam Nussbaum on drums. While We're Young is the best of the three albums this trio recorded, but for those who were hoping for another album along the lines of 1975's Timeless, you may be disappointed. Which is not to say that it's a bad album, but it could have been so much more.

While We're Young is quite simply a dichotomy: the first four tracks feature the atmospheric, boundary-pushing music Abercrombie is known for, while the last four tracks are much more relaxed, and well, mellow. Listen to the hushed opening measures of both "Rain Forest" and "Stormz". The former builds slowly to a fabulous pinched-tone Abercrombie electric solo. The latter showcases a drum/guitar duet, and Abercombie's bended/tremolo notes must be heard to be believed. On "Dear Rain", Nussbaum plays only cymbals over Abercrombie's clear tone and Wall's sustained chords. "Mirrors" is this album's most aggressive and uptempo number, with a drum/organ duet and Wall handling the bass line under Abercrombie's solo. It leads one to wonder what a double-bassist or electric-bassist could have contributed to Abercrombie's understated but distinctive, fluid yet bluesy playing on this album.

After an impressive start, the brakes are applied and the intensity fades. To put it plainly, the last four tracks are elusive, muted, effortless, moody, peaceful, leisurely, etc. There are occasional moments of vigor and energy, but for the most part both compositions and performances pale next to the previously established sound-world and blend one into another. Abercrombie's amplified acoustic on "Scomotion" would fit right in on most any Pat Metheny album of the last 20 years. Such a drastic change-of-pace on an album's second half is not unprecedented, but it is disheartening after such a promising beginning.

At 59:08, While We're Young doesn't overstay its welcome, but the final four tracks do not help matters. Perhaps it's unfair (especially with the passage of decades) to compare everything Abercrombie records with the incandescence of Timeless or 1976's Gateway, but a precedent was indisputably set. If you're a long-time Abercrombie listener, there is much to enjoy on this album, but it can't rightfully be classified among his best. Thankfully it doesn't meander into the long-winded aimlessness of some of his later albums, and it does provide enjoyable listening every time it comes off the shelf. But that's all.

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