John Abercrombie's 1989 release UPON A TIME is, as the subtitle points out, an album of duets, mostly with bassist Mel Graves and drummer George Marsh. While bass and drum solos are often the punchlines of musical jokes, Graves and Marsh are skilled players with enough good taste to keep the flashiness to an interesting minimum. As for guitarist Abercrombie, his playing is typically brilliant, whether picking out the traditional melody of "My Scottish Heart" or moving into a more impressionistic sonic arena in tracks like "In the Woods" or "Chuck Man Rivers." Earthier and more expressly jazz-based than many releases on the ECM-affiliated New Albion label, UPON A TIME is a satisfying, richly rewarding album.
"Speak to Me" is the CD premiere of a duo that has actually been in existence for some time. The recordings with pianist Marc Copland and guitarist John Abercrombie are classic examples of the quiet, calm art of communication practiced at the highest level. The musical meeting of these two contemporary jazz maestros has a wonderfully organic feel. It is comparable to the finest chamber music. The pieces shimmer with multifarious shades and meanings. They are small sound sculptures of artful transience. This is music from two of the most insightful players of jazz.
Guitarists John Abercrombie and John Scofield join forces for these early-'80s sessions, mostly duets while occasionally adding bassist George Mraz and drummer Peter Donald. They delve into the jazz canon with an intricate duet of "Solar," a driving, Latin-fused take of "Four on Six" (in which Abercrombie overdubs an electric mandolin), and a dreamy duo interpretation of "If You Could See Me Now." The sole standard, "I Should Care," fares just as well in their hands, which settles into a relaxed exchange between the two players as if they are playing for themselves alone. Scofield's "Small Wonder" is scored for the quartet, a bristling post-bop vehicle with a feature for Mraz as well.