John Abercrombie
Open Land
ECM Records (www.ecmrecords.com)

cd Open Land is an excellent album with strong compositions, an exciting lineup of players, and, for the most part, mature improvisations. The trio of Abercrombie, Wall and Nussbaum have recorded 3 albums previous to this one on ECM, two studio sessions and one live date. The trio is cohesive, and has developed a sound of its own; they're sensitive, interactive, open and capable of swinging hard. The addition of Wheeler, Lovano, and Feldman make the album even more attractive. Abercrombie makes good use of the 3 guests without taking away from the beautiful work of the trio. He mixes and matches the players on occasion but the continuity is never lost. The album is slightly undermixed for this reviewer's taste, with certain parts a little on the soft side, but this "defect" is akin to a visit to the optometrist at a glasses fitting and being asked "which lens is clearer, this one, or this one? Let's just call it all but imperceptible.

"Open Land" has Wheeler laying out the tune with a rubato Celtic theme that moves into an uptempo swing with the melody restated, becoming more angular and snaky. The tune becomes quite free and the respective soloists stretch out yet keeping the tune in mind. Abercrombie plays some very creative lines, with a funky, fuzzy tone. There is a lot of interplay between Abercrombie and Nussbaum on this particular tune, which is adds an interesting layer to the performance. The improvisations go in and out of time with the theme restated at the end of each solo. Violinist Feldman is next up and throws out some good ideas. Improvisationally speaking he's the odd man out on this tune, at times sounding a little self-absorbed and less interactive than the others when he's the featured improviser. That said, he adds color and blends beautifully in the ensemble passages. Organist Wall is up next, beginning his solo in a slow and free phrygian theme and then moving elsewhere. Wall knows how to build a solo and add a distinct sound to the group. Always an inventive player, Lovano uses a sparser approach than his usual here, which suits the concept of this group. He occasionally takes charge but never takes over.

"Spring Song" is a lovely medium tempo waltz with a haunting intro and incredibly beautiful melody. It was nice to hear Abercrombie make some of the melody minus the horns and violins. The tune features Feldman, Lovano and Abercrombie. Wall and Abercrombie's accompaniment is spot-on. There is always clarity even with both occasionally comping at the same time. Abercrombie changes up his sound on this album much as a trumpeter might use a variety of mutes in order to provide a variety of colors and shading. His improvisiations are pure music and very mature. After his excellent solo, the melody is restated followed by some strong improvisations with Wall and the group.

"Gimme Five" is a nice natural 5/4 tune with a simple conventional bassline played by Wall and occasionally doubled by Abercrombie. The tune has an effective pentatonic melody that is harmonized nicely. The tune features some nice interactions between Feldman and Abercrombie, Kenny Wheeler then enters . Still at the top of his game in his late 60's, he is one of the most recent innovators of the jazz trumpet is all over the trumpet on this one but always in good taste. Drummer Nussbaum creates a nice mood by playing the snare or toms with his hands. He can really swing hard but shows incredible sensitivity and maturity with this group. Abercrombie's solo features some oddly articulated eighth note lines.

Open Land features several other strong compositions by Abercrombie and one group improvisation. This was one of the best jazz albums of 1999. - Kevin E. and Miss Di

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