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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, James Poore, Glyn Pursglove, George Stacy, Bert Thompson, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf

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39 Steps

ECM 374 2710



1. Vertigo

2. LST

3. Bacharach

4. Greenstreet

5. As It Stands

6. Spellbound

7. Another Ralph's

8. Shadow of a Doubt

9. 39 Steps

10. Melancholy Baby


John Abercrombie - Guitar

Marc Copland - Piano

Drew Gress - Bass

Joey Baron - Drums


This is the quartet that Abercrombie led on a recent European tour. Disappointingly there were no UK dates, as I am sure that home audiences would have appreciated the empathy between four very fine musicians. The New York-born guitarist is now something of a veteran and has recorded many times with ECM, but this is the first recording on Manfred Eicher's label for pianist Marc Copland. Abercrombie and Copland are no strangers to one another as they both played with Chico Hamilton's group in the 1970s and have since played together in various line-ups including with Kenny Wheeler.

The CD comprises six originals by Abercrombie, two by Copland, one brief collective improvisation (Shadow of a Doubt) and a very loose version of the old standard, Melancholy Baby. The guitarist is a gifted composer of instantly appealing tunes, mainly in medium tempo, which provide excellent frameworks for his and Copland's solo contributions and, occasionally for their first-rate bass-player, Drew Gress, too. Baron, one of the few musicians ever to have been caught smiling in an ECM sleeve photograph, provides spirited support throughout.

Interestingly, four tune titles are also titles of Hitchcock films, presumably a particular interest of Abercrombie. Indeed, 39 Steps and Vertigo are two of the standout tracks, attractive and lyrical, and containing beautifully-constructed solos for Abercrombie's warm-toned guitar and Copland's fluid keyboard voicings. Spellbound, a Copland tune, has a bluesier feel with Abercrombie providing reminders of the great Wes Montgomery. Bacharach is a gentle waltz tune and Another Ralph's (presumably Towner) is built around a repeated four-note phrase that, again, provides a perfect base for inventive solos by the two lead musicians.

This CD is one of the most accessible and engaging ECM releases of recent times.

George Stacy

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