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The Collector: (A is for) John Abercrombie – Tactics (ECM 1997)

October 11, 2009

To buy this would have been a gamble. I’d first heard Abercrombie’s “Clint” on an ECM sampler: drums in a locked groove, bass adding probing asides, and Abercrombie switching from cute synth guitar verse to a seemingly languid solo which tightened and tightened to almost psychological tautness in the chorus. I then stumbled across his “Timeless” album at 2UNE (my student radio stationon which the byplay between guitar and Hammond B3 (played by Jan Hammer no less)) I found skittish and playful. But when I discovering “Tactics” in a Canberra record store in 1997, another Hammond trio date, I paused, for I knew previous form counted for nothing on a label like ECM.

There is a lot I love about ECM, not least of all the brooding melancholy of the album, which makes the object of the album nice to own. Neither did I have any qualms about the sparse, slick “ECM sound” which drives many to distraction. But I at the time I knew output varied in sound and quality. The same artist could follow a straight-ahead jazz album with an exercise in droning and atmospheres or classical complexity, which was fine except I found the master of one was not always master of all. In other words ECM artist could be too varied for their own good (and I am looking at you Mr Metheny).

Not least with John Abercrombie. “Tactics” was an brooding live album; an example of Abercrombie ability to play around notes, and which showed just how muscular a Hammond B3 could be. But I was still enamoured by my first love, “Clint”. Years later, when I tracked down its parent album, “Current Events”, I was expecting an album full of tense “Clint” style experiments, but I had no such luck. I should have known, for the rest of “Current Events” was obvious jazz, and not to my liking. If “Tactics” showed the best of ECM, “Current Events” encapsulated the worst – that buying any ECM album is a larger gamble than usual.

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