Timeless - John Abercrombie - LICK MY DECALS OFF, BABY! #64

My week’s been a bit hectic. It’s the time of year again where I bid farewell to my best friends for another few months as we all head back to university for another semester, that time where I have to once again pull my finger out after a summer that felt far too short and do some work. I’m a man of sentiment and I emphasize memories, and in monumental times of the year such as now I tend to do a lot of thinking about the past year: what was good, what was bad, how it’s compared to previous years, if I’ve changed etc. And of course there’s always a soundtrack to such important moments in my life. September’s traditionally Go! Team/DJ Shadow for me, don’t know why, but there’s one album that’s always been a constant presence in these moments over the years, one I constantly crave and return to and it’s only taken me until now to realize: Ladies and Gentlemen, may I present John Abercrombie.

His album Timeless is just that: a collection of classics that have long stood the test of time, enduring and exciting since 1974. It’s also one of those albums that seems to get better and more appropriate as time goes by. A balance of yin and yang, Timeless ranges from the aggressive to the delicate on a track by track basis, not only embracing a universally acclaimed sound but crafting each track to appropriate a certain feeling. As a jazz trio, John Abercrombie, Jack DeJohnette and Jan Hammer’s expertise range from the furious to the mellow. Gorgeous piano and guitar duets lie tucked inbetween monstrous jazz freak-outs a la Jeff Beck (the Jan Hammer influence there); the strangest of bedfellows, and yet nobody can deny how well they compensate each other. The stark beauty of, say, Love Song, is offset by the turbulent rhythmic groove of Red and Orange. Deep funk and R&B leanings provide the soil from which a lot of Timeless sprouts from, which is then watered and nurtured by the group’s penchant for balladry. A wellspring of some of life’s most primal emotions: anger and love, movingly expressed through music.

John Abercrombie, 'amidst the general incandescence'.
But onto some specifics. I’m keeping them fairly light this time: I merely want to point out a few of the most touching moments on Timeless.  Bookended by two twelve-minute tracks, each one is vastly different from the other, and yet no less fascinating. The first, Lungs, is pure schizoid, taking us at first in a tight, past-paced rock-ish tram ride before something happens. The music stops for a second, and completely changes character. Instead of the virtuosic solos and interchanging from Messrs.’ Hammer, Abercrombie and DeJohnette, we have a series of repetitive, meditative explorations. Hammer’s role is resigned to the background, giving us a funky organ groove deeper than the Marianas Trench, and Abercrombie/DeJohnette perform individual solos of a jarring and improvisatory character. It’s definitely Abercrombie’s guitar leading though, moving from feedback, swells, wahs, echoes and distortions across a white hot fretboard of experimental playing. In stunning, stunning contrast comes the title track right at the very end. For those of you that like drone music… please tune in now. Timeless opens with a sustained drone, swelling and growing by the second, interlocked by the distant swishing of cymbals and a beautiful guitar theme by Abercrombie, restrained and minimalistic, like a shooting star in the corner of your eye as you gaze upon the night time sky, a flickering wave of something special amidst the general incandescence. The cymbals seem just as distant, yet soothing. I am in a sensory deprivation tank; gosh this is fantastic. What a feeling, to have let loose of all your fears and anxieties and to plunge yourself into the warmth and comfort of this composition. Oh the joy! Real life won’t quite be the same after this.  A few minutes of build up and the drone increasing in voluptuousness, Hammer contributes another deep organ bassline and allows DeJohnette a little freedom to improvise his drum parts over Abercrombie’s introspective (but by no means restrained this time) soloing. A few minutes from the end Hammer takes us on a space journey worthy of the late Neil Armstrong, (R.I.P) with dazzling synth playing with an extraterrestrial sound. Après ça, Abercrombie appears again to gently lead us down from our relaxation and meditations, easing us and slowing us down to the point of nothingness, fading out and leaving the album – just like that.

You see friends; Timeless isn’t just an album that I have a habit of listening to in important moments in my life because I happened to discover it at an opportune time, or because of habit, or whatever. It’s one of those albums that feels important, that from its musical scope and impassioned playing can serve as a musical representation of a great lifestyle change or a moment that you’ll remember forever. Forgive the cheesy send off line, but it’s true: Timeless by name, timeless by nature. [I am filled with ennui - Ed.]

Words - Adam

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